There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part Nine: In My End Is My Beginning (with Allison Epstein)

The saga of Mary, Queen of Scots concludes with the ultimate outfit reveal. And: so much spy shit!!


The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and her Greatest Rival by Kate Williams

Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter

Imprisoning Mary, Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen by Mickey Mayhew by Cyril Hamshere

George Lasry, Norbert Biermann & Satoshi Tomokiyo (2023) Deciphering Mary Stuart’s lost letters from 1578-1584, Cryptologia

Learn more about Allison Epstein and their books at and follow them on IG and Twitter @ rapscallison

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Vulgar History Podcast

There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part Nine: In My End is My Beginning with Allison Epstein

July 19, 2023

Ann: Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. We’re talking about Mary, Queen of Scots; There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots. This is Part Nine, I’m joined by Allison Epstein. Allison, welcome. 

Allison: Thank you, thank you. Happy to be back for Part Nine. Remember when you thought this could be four?

Ann: [laughs] It is to laugh… Yeah. And this is Part Nine and I do just want to let everybody know, there will be a Part Ten, so we’re going to all gently wean ourselves off of this discussion. I’m very, very excited to tell you about the references for this episode because one of them is Mary’s recently unciphered secret sexy code letters.

Allison: Hell yeah!

Ann: Oh my gosh! I think it was in February of this past year, 2023 when it was revealed that these letters were unciphered and I was already planning, I was in the midst of doing this season. I was like, “Great! When I get to that part of the story, I’m excited to read those letters.” So, I didn’t really read up about it until preparing for this episode and I’m just like, “Oh my god! This is really exciting!” Have you seen that there are other people, who are not me, are really excited that this Book of Hours that was owned by Thomas More? 

Allison: Yeah.

Ann: Some people are really excited, it’s like, “Oh my god, it’s the book, he’s holding this portrait.” And I’m just like, “Okay.”

Allison: “Okay!” I think Thomas More is whatever but show me more letters from Mary, that’s way more fun.”

Ann: It’s wayyy more fun. It was really exciting. So, John Guy, who I didn’t use his book for this episode but his biography of Mary, Queen of Scots was the one that was the basis for the Saoirse Ronan movie, it’s the biography I mostly used as a source for the first three-quarters of this series. Anyway, he was quoted as saying, “This is the most significant Mary, Queen of Scots discovery in 200 years, this changes everything.” And he’s not wrong. It’s really exciting and it adds a real flavour and colour to this episode that, like, none of the biographies I read include because it was just discovered recently. 

But I will shout out the biographies I used. So, The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and her Greatest Rival by Kate Williams, Embroidering Her Truth by Clare Hunter, got to get that textile, embroider discussion, of which there will be in the episode as well. Imprisoning Mary, Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen by Mickey Mayhew, published by Pen and Sword Press. An article by History Today by Cyril Hamshere, an article from BBC. And then, and I’m going to put the link to this in the show notes, so from Cryptologia magazine for cryptology enthusiasts, the academic journal, I should say, for cryptology enthusiasts, an article called, “Deciphering Mary, Queen of Scots’ Lost Letters from 1578-1584” by George Lasry, Norbert Biermann and Satoshi Tomokiyo, which they made available online to anybody, thank you. Thank you for not making me have to sneak into the university library to read this paper. Thank you. 

I want to talk about these letters. So, more than 50 letters Mary wrote were decoded by a team of cryptanalysts. They helped shed light on what Mary was thinking during this time period we’re talking about, during this spy shit. So, the people who did this, I love this, it’s just three nerds, and I say that with absolute affection, it’s these three guys; George Lasry of Israel, Norbert Biermann of Germany, and Satoshi Tomokiyo of Japan are part of an international community of code breakers and scholars. For fun…

Allison: Just for fun!

Ann: They just go to archives, look up letters that are in code and try to figure the codes on those letters. They weren’t being like, “We’re going to find Mary, Queen of Scots’s papers,” they’re just guys who do this and it turns out, these are Mary, Queen of Scots’s papers. They all have day jobs. [laughs]

Allison: Can you imagine being, like, an amateur code breaker just going through a letter being like, “Hang on guys, hang on. What the fuck? This letter that we’re decoding that we found in an old book somewhere in Italy, is Mary, Queen of Scots’s letter.” I would lose my fucking mind.

Ann: Well no, and that’s the thing. So, just reading about them and their discovery… So, the letters are written in code in French, it is French letters put into code. So, I’m going to say it in English, but it would say “My son” or “My imprisonment.” So, they’re like, “Okay, these were written by a woman, who is imprisoned, who has a son.” And then they got the name Walsingham and they’re like, “Walsingham? Walsingham? Hold on.” And then they’re like, [whispers] “Holy shit.” Because they were just in these random Italian archives with other papers that had just been misfiled, basically. 

So, these guys, I want to tell you, they all have day jobs. George Lasry is a computer scientist, Norbert Biermann is a pianist and musical coach, and Satoshi Tomokiyo is an astrophysicist. [both laugh] They’re straight-up just nerds with a hobby. 

Allison. I love! Augh!

Ann: So, they joined forces on this project which began as part of a larger effort to decipher archival documents and they ended up uncovering more than 55 letters that Mary wrote during her time in England. So, what’s cool about these letters… Everything. One thing that I was so excited I had to tell Allison already is that Mary used code names. So, part of the way this cipher works is that there’s a symbol that means a certain person. But when she starts using a code name for a person she has to write in the letter, “Henceforth, this means this.” So, she gives nicknames to all these guys, just like I do on this podcast! [laughs] I was like, “She’s just like meeee!”

Allison: Careened into my DMs being like, “Mary’s got nicknames for all these assholes too!” And I was just so happy. She’s also like, “There are too many fucking men named James, let me just draw a little symbol.” [laughs]

Ann: It’s like, anyway, reading these letters I’m like, first of all, Mary is just like what I thought she was like. In the books I’ve read, where people are saying, “She did this. This is probably what she was thinking.” And then I sort of extrapolated that to mean, “This is the person I think she is,” and the letters make it clear that that is the person she was! She was that bitch! [takes a deep breath] She wasn’t just sitting around being sad.

Allison: I love them because there’s new information in there but at the same time it doesn’t force me to rethink anything I thought I knew about Mary because she is so fucking consistently that person. That like, her voice is so loud in everything I’ve ever read from her or about her that it’s like, “It’s more Mary, but it’s exactly the same!” It’s great. 

Ann: Well, and it’s great because these were letters that were written in French, put into cipher, decoded, retranslated back into English, and you still get her personality. Her writing is so evocative, there’s such a voice to it. She’s like, snarky and bitchy and because these were ciphered letters, she doesn’t have to be like, “My dear, esteemed gentlemen.” She’s writing just like, “This fucking bitch,” not those words, but that’s the vibe. She’s being honest in these letters in a way that she’s not in official letters we’ve seen before.

Allison: Because she can! She doesn’t think anybody but the recipient is ever going to read this so we’re getting unfiltered Mary, Queen of Scots. She is just so petty about it, it’s so good.

Ann: She’s exactly who I thought she was which was reassuring and exciting. So yes, in the one letter, she wrote, “This gentleman, who will be called between us ‘la Tour’” and that’s what I sent Allison. “This gentleman, known between us as WD-40.” [laughs]

Allison: [laughs] “Known as, Councilman Jeremy Jam.” [laughs]

Ann: So exciting, so exciting. So, just to recap because, perhaps you’re not just binging all these episodes in the day, like some sort of person who has 12 hours in a row, last time we were talking about Mary going to England. There was this fake show trial that ended with her being found neither guilty nor innocent of Darnley’s murder so she’s just in a holding pattern. But basically, there was the Northern Rebellion, there was no obvious connection between that but the Ridolfi Plot kind of made it seem like, “Oh.” And this is part of where you’re like, did Cecil get Ridolfi to do all this? Because basically, Mary was no longer being held captive because she might have killed Darnley, she’s now captive because by her perhaps involvement in the Ridolfi Plot, she’d maybe tried to kill Elizabeth. So, it’s just like, Cecil had reason to keep her there now, indefinitely. 

Elizabeth refused to condemn her, parliament kept trying to force Elizabeth to treat Mary as a common subject and put her on trial, but Elizabeth always refused that because Mary was a queen, she was not Elizabeth’s subject, and this would undermine Elizabeth and the authority of queens in general. But she did agree that if Mary ever did anything again– They’re really fencing her in with these like, “If anyone thinks that Elizabeth might die… If someone does a rebellion, even if it wasn’t Mary, she’ll be liable.” If she did anything ever again, she could be tried by a set of nobles, is what Elizabeth decided. So, Cecil is just like, “Okay. I really need to get indisputable evidence to get Elizabeth, this person who will never commit to anything, to actually agree to find Mary guilty of something.”

Allison: So, the laws are set up so that it can be the flimsiest evidence possible but Elizabeth, personally, is not going to give them the go-ahead unless she’s sure. So, they can’t just wave their hands and say, “She’s guilty now.” They still need something, not for legal reasons, but for convince-the-Queen-so-she’ll-pull-the-trigger reasons. 

Ann: Exactly. And so, Cecil and Walsingham need Mary to be clearly complicit in a plot to murder Elizabeth and it can’t just be Casket letters, erotic fanfiction, it needs to be Mary writing in a letter like, “Hell yeah, let’s kill Liz.” They need that. 

Meanwhile, Mary at this point, was disenchanted with the legal “system”, which I presume she had been for a while, so she had to scheme her way out of this on her own. Before she’d been like, “I’m going to wait until Elizabeth sees my son, I’m going to marry T-Dog.” But now she’s just like, “Fuck this, I need to do some spy shit. Get Spain up in here, let’s go.”

Allison: Yeah, this is no longer, “Let’s try to get Elizabeth on my side and maybe it’ll all go.” This is burn-it-down era Mary because what else is she going to do? She’s got her back up against the wall and we know how Mary acts when her back is against the wall. She’s like, “Let’s turn my scheme up to 15 and burn down whatever we have to, to get out of this.” This is yeah…

Ann: This is Mary, fork-in-eye energy. [Allison chuckles] So, it is by now, 1572 so it’s been like four, five years since she’s been in England. She’s still in Sheffield with Mr. and Mrs. Bess of Hardwick. 

And I need to update you on several things that happened this year in other countries. So, August 1572 the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre happens in France. 

Allison: Thanks, de Guises! [laughs]

Ann: So, that’s where her de Guise uncles cause yet another massacre, mark that on your bingo card, along with Catherine de’ Medici, are responsible for the massacre of numerous protestants in France. We talked about that in the Catherine de’ Medici episode, I talked about that in the Queen Margot episode, not going to get into it now, lots of other things to discuss. What it means for Mary is it makes Elizabeth in England wary of Catholics in general.

Allison: Even more than before after the Pope had already excommunicated Elizabeth and said, “Anyone who wants to can murder her,” now they’re actually going around and murdering Protestants. 

Ann: Yeah. So, it’s like, this happened in France so what if this makes the Catholics in England start killing Protestants here? Elizabeth is a Protestant. But also, they’re like, the de Guises were involved, and Mary is a de Guise. It’s like, she had nothing to do with that specifically, but the de Guise relationship evermore fucks things up for her. 

Allison: Super reasonable actually on Elizabeth’s part to be like, “I am not feeling great about this.” [laughs] I get it.

Ann: Yeah. That October… So, most recently the regent for Baby BJ, James the King of Scotland, a little boy, the Earl of Mar dies, probably being poisoned by other assholes, so they have to choose a new regent again and this time they choose Jeremy Jam from Parks and Recreation, which is bad news because he has always hated Mary, continues to hate Mary, he will side with Elizabeth against her, that’s his whole vibe. November of this same year, this is where I just wanted this chronology because I’m like, “So many things happened. In what order?” So, John Knox died.

Allison: Yay!

Ann: Hallelujah. So, he dies at home “Surrounded by his friends and some of the greatest Scottish nobles around him. He asked for the Bible to be read aloud and his child bride Margaret did so. He was buried at St. Giles church in Edinburgh, which was destroyed in 1633,” not sure why, “and the precise site of his grave cannot be established anymore.” Good. I wonder if there are John Knox ghosts anywhere. 

Allison: Oh, you know he just shows up anywhere there are more than three women at the same time just being like, “It’s a whoooore!”

Ann: [laughs] “Whooores!” And this is my favourite thing, in his will he claimed– Well, he’s basically explaining why he wasn’t leaving very much money to anybody. He said, “None have I corrupted, none have I defrauded, merchandise have I not made.” [Allison laughs] And I laughed and laughed when I read that because he is my enemy and I’m like, “Merchandise I have made, [both laugh] with his name on it.”

Allison: “Where is your God now, John Knox?” I’ve made a minimal amount of money from that, so suck it. 

Ann: Yeah, it is the best-selling merch I’ve ever done, John Knox, anti-John Knox merch. Anyway, just so you know, his child bride, who is now an adult but was married as a child, Margaret married again, someone called Andrew Ker, who was one of those involved in the murder of David Rizzio. And at first, I was like, “Margaret!” But then I was like, how many men in Scotland who were nobles weren’t involved in the murder of David Rizzio? 

Allison: There were 200 of them, right? So yeah, that’s fair. 

Ann: It’s hard to find someone who wasn’t. “John Knox’s death was barely noticed at the time. Although his funeral was attended by the nobles of Scotland mentioned his death in their surviving letters,” because he sucks. Mary, Queen of Scots made only two brief references to him in her letters, basically just being like, “Suck it. Hate you. You’re dead. Good.” 

Winter turns to spring, now we’re in May– This episode… previous episodes like the Rizzio murder, the Darnley murder it’s like, “Okay, this happened in the morning, this is in the afternoon,” the whole episode takes place over three days. This episode is like a montage. Mary is in this house and time is passing.

Allison: She’s imprisoned. There was lots of time when nothing was happening, and the schemes had to move in slow motion because she couldn’t leave. 

Ann: She’s waiting for letters to and from. So, now May 1573, at which point, in Edinburgh… So, Edinburgh Castle, and we saw this in other episodes, it’s like whoever holds that castle has control over the city. And until this point, Edinburgh Castle had been held by Mary supporters, by people who wanted her to return. Wildly, the person in charge of it at this point was William Kirkcaldy of Grange, who had been anti-Mary in two major battles. The last time we heard about him, he was chasing down Bothwell in the ocean. [Allison giggles] Anyway, he’d been on her side but he, along with Scottish Machiavelli, was among her most devoted supporters. But Jeremy Jam is the regent, he hates Mary, he and the Protestants capture the castle and with that, they claim Edinburgh. So, now the city no longer supports her, which weakens her cause in Scotland in general. Oh, and then this is, let’s see, we already talked about him, but this is December 1573 when Walsingham is officially appointed spymaster. He was already on the scene…

Allison: He was kind of unofficially doing the spymaster stuff and Queen Elizabeth was like, “Maybe we should give you a job title because you’re going to be doing this for me anyway.” 

Ann: Yeah. So, this is where I wrote, “Months are just passing by like that montage in the second Twilight movie [Allison laughs] and Mary is still stuck inside writing letters, embroidering increasingly gruesome things, doing what she can.” She’s also gotten more sophisticated with her super-secret spy cipher stuff. Like way back when she was in France, she learned about writing letters in ciphers and codes but it’s been decades so there’s been developments in spy shit and she’s keeping up with it. For instance, she found out a way to use alum on taffeta as a kind of invisible ink; spy letters on fabric is a thing she’s doing.

Allison: It’s very her, she loved a secret outfit.

Ann: Exactly! And then also, there’s like, in one second, I’m going to ask you to explain the letters and the folding and the ciphers but there are also so many other things where it’s, like, if she ordered fabric and slightly more came than she requested, that was a hint that there was a secret communication in the parcel. There are so many things that are, like, not the letters themselves but things surrounding the letters and how they were delivered would be secret clues. It’s just like four-dimensional chess all the time.

Allison: She’s so good at this.

Ann: “Green ribbons could be attached to books to indicate specific pages or a note could be hidden in the shoe’s heel.”

Allison: Remember when she was sneaking out of Lochleven and she’s like, “As soon as somebody hands this person a pearl earring, it will be time to get started.” She’s… sneaky!

Ann: Yeah. Can you explain about the ciphers and the folding, please?

Allison: Yeah. So, there’s the classic ciphered letter which is just a fancy way of saying it’s in code. So, she would make up her own sort of alphabet situation where she would have her own– This symbol would mean this letter but then this symbol would mean these three letters when they come together, and this one symbol would be just this guy’s name. So, it’s like, not a one-to-one, you couldn’t break it super easily, she had these super sophisticated systems that she was using. She also didn’t stop there; she would fold the letters into these origami situations where you could read the message when the letter was folded in the right way, the letters would line up in the right order. And then if you opened it, you could tell that someone had tampered with it, and you would know that maybe the message wasn’t safe. The low-tech cyber security of it all, she’s just encrypting things and then encrypting them within her encryption. And then she’s folding the letter to encrypt the actual symbols and it’s just like, so intense! 

Ann: And then she’s taking the folded letter and putting it in a pile of five other letters and the fact that it’s third in the pile, that means… Every, you know, it’s like…

Allison: And then there’s a green ribbon so you know that it’s Tuesday and it’s just like, insane! 

Ann: Yeah. So, this is the level of these guys, our three friends, the astrophysicist, music tutor, they found these letters, they didn’t know what they were. So, they fed them into this computer program and the computer program, a contemporary computer program, could only decrypt 30% of it.

Allison: Yeah! And that’s why I’m such a fangirl of Walsingham even though I’m Team Mary because Walsingham and his spies did not have a computer algorithm to feed these letters into. They were just sitting here by hand being like, “Let’s break this incredibly sophisticated code by the smartest person on this island, and we have to do it fast because we think she’s going to assassinate the Queen.” The stakes are so high, and the cryptology of it is so complicated and it’s 1572 and no one has AI! It’s just wild

Ann: But this brings us to another character in this story whose name is I believe Ben Phillippe. Do you know who I mean? 

Allison: I do. No one really knows how to spell his name or what his first name is. [laughs]

Ann: And this is why I call him, just based on the spelling of his last name, Ryan Phillippe, [Allison laughs] is how I’m going to refer to him; the actor an ex-husband of Reese Witherspoon because his last name, there are so many Ls and so many Ps. 

Allison: No one knows how to spell it.

Ann: So, this guy, Ryan Phillippe, he is like, this savant, he’s the one who can crack the codes, he can forge anyone’s handwriting.

Allison: He can like, sneak the seals off of letters so it doesn’t look like anybody has opened these super-sealed communications. He’s the hacker of the 1570s, he can get into anything, and I love him. In my book, A Tip for the Hangman, I modelled my Kit Marlowe off of Ryan Phillippe because I thought that guy was just so cool and all of his, like… Just the skills you have to have to do that…

Ann: It’s wild, it’s wild. Honestly, as you had said, the reason why Elizabeth was successful is she was Walsingham and she had Cecil and, I would argue, she has Ryan Phillippe. Without Ryan Phillippe, how much could Walsingham have done?

Allison: If you can’t read the letters, you don’t have any proof of anything. 

Ann: Yeah. So, this guy, Ryan Phillippe, I picture it like you just said, you just inspired this thought in my head, it’s like in a heist movie or in NCIS or whatever, there’s the really weird nerd with no social skills but they’re so good at doing this… 

Allison: In the vans?

Ann: They’re so good at hacking. It’s like this guy who is just like, how can anyone be so good at this? And yet he was. And how fortunate that Walsingham found him and that he was on that side. 

Allison: And Walsingham’s spy recruitment was so weird. He was going into colleges and universities and being like, “This guy seems smart, I bet you he’d be really good at codes, let me go get that guy.” He was not going in the nobility like, “Let me go get one of the Howards because they’re powerful and have good connections.” It’s like, “Let me go get this weirdo from Oxford who is doing lots of math.” And I love that.

Ann: I love it and it’s so smart because in the nobility, who are you going to get? T-Dog? These guys are not good.

Allison: Yeah, you’re going to get that asshole!

Ann: Those guys are not– No. You need these real weird nerds, yeah.

Allison: You need the weird nerds who can go undercover, and no one is going to notice them. You’re going to see T-Dog walking down the street and you’re going to be like, “Is that Thomas Howard? I should watch what he’s going to do.” You’re not going to look at weird Oxford math man, it’s great.

Ann: Yeah. He was really, I’m on Mary’s side but I respect that the other side is equally good at what they’re doing. The spy versus spy. This whole thing has become a John le Carré novel but Tudor era where it’s really capable, smart spies just out-spying each other. And it’s a nice change from the chaotic asshole lords. 

Allison: By the 1570s, everyone left involved in this story is so good at it that it’s just so tense. You start at the beginning and it’s just like, “No one knows what the fuck is going on. Should we stab him 86 times? Why not?” But by the end of this you’re like, “Oh boy, we’ve all learned a thing.”

Ann: Yeah, it’s a real different vibe. When she gets to England, Mary’s story really shifts into what kind of story it is. So, by now, it’s been god knows how many years. Bess and Mr. Bess are still paying for her lifestyle.

Allison: Mr. Bess must be so fucking pissed. 

Ann: They started off incredibly rich and they are less so. Just, like, the cost of keeping her there and the responsibility of having… it’s, like, they got married and a couple of months later Elizabeth was like, “Hey, can you take this woman and go live in your swamp house… indefinitely?” This was taking a toll on their marriage, Bess and Mr. Bess. They didn’t have any time to be together and be married before Mary was there. And not to say that Mary was, like, sexy and having an affair with Mr. Bess but it’s just, like, she’s there and that’s a responsibility and that’s stressful.

Allison: It’s like, you have a house guest and you’re not going to be as intimate with your partner if you have someone like, down the hall. But if that someone down the hall might be plotting treason you might be extra not in the mood for that. 

Ann: Yeah, and Mr. Bess had to always be paying attention to her and reading all her letters and everything. It’s a lot, they’re tired.

Allison: And they’re broke because she’s eating 16 courses per meal. [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] Exactly. Okay, so May 1574, at which point, the King of France, Charles IX died of tuberculosis et cetera. He had no legitimate heirs, so the new French king was his younger brother, Catherine de’ Medici’s next youngest son, Henri who was a gay crossdresser. I just wanted to throw that out there.

Allison: Can I ask you a question Ann, about Charles? Was Charles the one in the Queen Margot movie who died bleeding sweat?

Ann: Yes. 

Allison: Okay, great. I remember him.

Ann: In real life, he was a sickly person and in the movie Queen Margot, his sweat is blood, and he just dies of gruesomeness, really.

Allison: He dies of bleeding sweat, it’s bad.

Ann: There’s a lot… He’s wearing white, Margot is wearing white. The red is very notable.

Allison: This was like, my favourite film, which says a lot.

Ann: The greatest movie of all time, Queen Margot. Anyway, so he dies, he was always just a puppet for Catherine de’ Medici, whatever, and now Henri also is, really. Anyway, Henri, crucially, is younger, he’s so young that when Mary was growing up in France, Henri was a little baby. He doesn’t have any emotional connection to her like Charles did. Charles was a bit younger than Mary and had a crush on her, so he was always maybe wanting to help her out a bit, Henri has no loyalty to her whatsoever. Catherine de’ Medici is still anti-Mary in general. 

And then, honestly Allison, the timeline I wrote out just to be able to put this all together… August 1574, in England a woman named Douglas Sheffield.

Allison: A Douglas!

Ann: A female Douglas, gives birth to a son who she named Robert Dudley. Why would this woman name her baby Bobby Duds? Because she is his secret wife, and this is their child.

Allison: [sings] Secret wife!

Ann: Elizabeth doesn’t know about this yet, but this comes up later. 

Allison: I imagine it will.

Ann: Robert Dudley is all over this story in a way I didn’t expect but I guess he’s right there with Elizabeth. She’s got Walsingham, Cecil, and Ryan Phillippe helping her out. And Bobby Duds is just kind of, fucking women, having illegitimate children. Like, not Darnley but 1% Darnley vibes.

Allison: But not not Darnley. I love that Bobby Duds keeps showing up in this story and not once does he want to be included in this narrative. Every time he’s like, “I sure hope no one brings me back into this mess and here we are again. Proposed threesome, surprise Catholic problem, and now there’s a baby I didn’t want.” Just leave this man alone. 

Ann: So, this same month, August 1574, over in France, Mary’s uncle, the de Guise cardinal dies. And with him, that’s kind of that generation of de Guises; the de Guise uncles are now all deadsville. Those guys who fucked up her life are all dead. There are de Guises but now they’re younger de Guises and she doesn’t know them, they kind of don’t care about her so that connection is, sort of, less than it was. And around this time, in the house where Mary was living, a visitor arrived who was her ex-mother-in-law, Darnley’s mother, Margaret Douglas.

Allison: A Douglas!

Ann: Margaret Douglas! Margaret Douglas! 

Allison: Scheming queen Margaret Douglas, bless.

Ann: So, she shows up and she and Mary make amends. The last time we saw Margaret Douglas, she was blaming Mary for the death of Darnley, being put in the Tower of London. So, she comes to visit. Why is she there? They kind of bury the hatchet but she’s kind of there because Margaret Douglas and Bess of Hardwick have this scheme to get their adult children secret sexy married to each other. And they did this by… Margaret Douglas showed up with her son, Bess of Hardwick’s daughter was there and they kind of forced meet-cuted them, [chuckles] sort of.

Allison: I don’t know why it seems so weird to me that Darnley had a brother.

Ann: Yeah!

Allison: Imagine being his brother watching that happen near you.

Ann: His name was Charles, Charles Stuart. So anyway, Bess’s daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish was married to Darnley’s younger brother. There was a painting that was done, I think commissioned by Margaret Douglas or maybe by her husband who is not dead yet, that’s like of her and the family all in prayer and Baby James being like, “Avenge me!”

Allison: [laughs] Baby James did a lot of screaming, “God, avenge my cause.” What a meme that must have been. [laughs]

Ann: It was! There are so many memes in this story, not a new phenomenon at all. Anyway, this marriage happened. It’s Darnley’s younger brother Charles. So, the whole reason, the whole thing with Darnley was that he has a claim to the English throne, through his mother who is the daughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. So, Charles Stuart has that same claim, effectively. 

Allison: It’s just another one, maybe, hopefully, a little bit less shitty.

Ann: From what I can tell, yeah, less shitty. Anyway, so this is the whole thing, he can’t marry without Elizabeth’s permission but as per ever on this podcast, no one ever asks Elizabeth’s permission. And these two become the parents of Arbella Stuart, who I did an episode about a while ago. Anyway, that’s where she comes from but also this is some scheming. So, Bess of Hardwick – again, I’m going to do a whole episode about her – is embroidering and she’s also doing her own scheming to get her grandchild to be the new queen of England, basically.

Allison: I’m obsessed with all of the grandma scheming that’s happening. They’re just like, “Not me and not my son, but my grandson will be King of England. I’ll be dead by then but by God, I’ll know that…” 

Ann: “My bloodline…”

Allison: Yeah, it’s incredible. 

Ann: This is interesting though too. I was starting to make a list and then I stopped, of people who claim to be like, “Apparently, I’m descended from Mary, Queen of Scots.” People say that, but no one ever says that if you’re descended from Mary, Queen of Scots, you’re descended from Darnley.

Allison: Yeah, congrats!

Ann: Not a thing to brag about, necessarily. Yeah, and you’re also descended from Margaret Douglas.

Allison: I would brag about that though, I love her.

Ann: She was great. But yeah, I was looking up to be like, because people, for instance… So, Mary, Queen of Scots, we’ll do this now because why not? Her son is Baby BJ. He had various children, among them were Charles I. Charles I is the father of Sexy Charles II, my shameful crush. Charles II is the one who messed around with Hortense Mancini, with Fubs, he had so many illegitimate children. So, Charles II had so many illegitimate children, all of England today, basically, is descended from Charles II, including Diana, Princess of Wales. So, that means William and Harry are, all their little kids. But then also Camilla, Queen Camilla is descended from one of these offshoots. People are always like, “I’m descended from Mary, Queen of Scots.” It’s like, “No, you’re descended from Fubbs. You’re descended from like…” [Allison laughs] People always think Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Allison: Yeah, a lot of people are descended from Mary, Queen of Scots via all of her man whore descendants. They got around. She only had one kid; they went nuts.

Ann: And also, if you’re descended from Mary, Queen of Scots, you’re descended from Baby BJ, James VI/I. You can’t be like, “I choose this one ancestor. There are so many dirtbags in this family tree, but I only got genes from her.” It’s like, “No, they were filtered down through…”

Allison: If you go in any direction on this family tree, you’re like, “Oh, a shitty person and a worse person and a worse person. Here’s the one good person I will claim descendence from.” 

Ann: Yeah, it’s just interesting to me how many people… I was going to do a meme, and I might still, I was going to post pictures of people and people could vote, “Which of these descendants are more Mary or more Darnley?” [Allison laughs] I might still do that, I don’t know.

Allison: I mean, I feel like in the modern royal family, we all know our answers, but we won’t get into that.

Ann: That’s the thing! And do I want to get into that? [laughs] It kind of goes without saying. 

Anyway, Elizabeth found out about this treason marriage of Charles, Darnley’s brother, to Bess of Hardwick’s daughter so as per ever, her permission had not been asked for or granted. You know what? I make fun of her but it’s like, she’s like, “My subjects, I ask of you one thing: to ask my permission before you get married.” No one ever does! Of course, she gets mad! It keeps happening. Everyone with a claim to the throne…

Allison: Because they plan these treasonous marriages. It keeps being treason grandmas trying to hook up their kids and she’s not wrong to ask them not to do that because it’s a bad move. 

Ann: Yeah, so she sent Margaret Douglas to the Tower of London, a place she had been now two or three times. I love this, Bess of Hardwick was summoned to London but just didn’t go. [laughs]

Allison: I cannot emphasize enough how hard I would watch the HBO mini-series Treason Grandmas of the Tudor Times. They’re so good.

Ann: The Real Treason Housewives. Yeah.

Allison: The Real Treason Housewives! Yes.

Ann: So, this is Mary’s opportunity. So, Bess is in disgrace. Darnley’s mom is in jail and Mary is like, “Mm, what if I try and win over Elizabeth via embroidery?” [chuckles] She’s had a fabric hookup forever, right? She and Mary Seaton are finding out what’s the latest; what are the cuffs, what are the lace trims? She’s keeping up with her fashion, so she got her fabric source to send her–  These are some of the letters, I forget if this is from the Clare Hunter book or from Mary’s letters but she’s like, “I want this specific fabric,” she sent a swatch, “I want it to be like this but a bit more red, I want some silver thread,” and what she did was she embroidered Elizabeth a skirt! She made a skirt and then put embroidery. The embroidery was in silver:

It was the intertwined floral devices of Scotland and England, the thistle and the rose mixed with other blossoms. The red was meant to remind Elizabeth of their shared blood as family members. 

And being sewn by Mary personally was the ultimate appeal of this garment because hand-sewing for someone else was so intimate. It wasn’t like, “Hey, I bought you this gift card.” It’s like, “I crafted this for you.”

Allison: And Mary is still a queen. Queen Elizabeth sitting down and going, “I’m going to make you an outfit and hand it to you, personally.” If that happened to any English subject, they would die of honour.

Ann: This is like, and her fashion sense and her embroidery vibes, it’s just like, I don’t know, “Christian Siriano made this for me personally?” Just the fashion side of it. 

Allison: Christian Siriano who is also the President of the United States. That’s the vibe.

Ann: Yeah, it’s true, it’s true. I’m trying to think, who is a person who is very fashionable and also very politically powerful? I don’t know.

Allison: Michelle Obama was the first one I thought of.

Ann: Yeah. It’s like Michelle Obama stitched me or hand-beaded these earrings? You would die. So, apparently, Elizabeth said, “This skirt is very nice.” Mary heard about this, she was really excited. Elizabeth, I think, wore this skirt and so then Mary sent along three night-headdresses. 

Allison: Like little Christmas Carol nightcaps? Like Ebenezer Scrooge? Yes, wonderful.

Ann: I love it. I think that would win you over.

Allison: It would.

Ann: So anyway, yeah Mary is just, she’s embroidering, she and Bess are creating all these embroideries, suggestive of Mary’s life, as discussed previously, some of them more traumatic than others.

Allison: Some of them just cute little frogs. 

Ann: Yeah, some just of frogs. Some being like, “Oh my god, this is like a flower being devoured by a caterpillar and it says on it, ‘A canker.’” 

Allison: [laughs] I just love her labelling system, it’s really really…

Ann: It’s true, it’s so good. I talk about this, again, I’m teasing this episode that’s coming but it was one of the first things I recorded was my chat with Clare Hunter. She describes in her book – and we talk in the episode that’s coming up later, next week actually – about how Mary and Bess had this vision. They were both making these little embroideries and their plan was to make this big embroidery comprised of little embroideries, and like the spy shit, they were all allegorical images. The order that they put them in would mean something and we don’t know what order they’re supposed to be in, now we just have them. But the two of them were putting together this really smart, interesting, meaningful thing; this magnum opus they were working on.

Allison: Yeah, like a quilt code, kind of.

Ann: Yeah! So again, the code of it all, it’s really… Again, it’s just like, show some respect to embroidery, the world.

Allison: And because Mary couldn’t do anything without making it into a scheme. Every single thing, she’s like, “I really enjoy embroidery, what if I combine it with my only other passion? … Schemes.”

Ann: [laughs] Exactly! So, this is years. She and Bess are sitting around stitching. There’s one quote I read that Mary wrote that she basically would embroider “Until the pain made her stop.” That embroidery, The Catte, has something like 10,000 stitches in it. She was like, just so much time and effort went into this. But she’s spending all this time with Bess and Bess knows all this stuff about Elizabeth because she’d been a lady-in-waiting for Elizabeth. So, Mary’s like, “Tell me more about Elizabeth… Oh, that’s interesting.” So, she’s learning stuff. She knows, “Oh, Elizabeth likes red skirts with embroidered thistles? Interesting.” She’s learning stuff as well.

Meanwhile, the Bess and Mr. Bess marriage continues to break down because of everything. Bess did accuse Mr. Bess of having an affair with Mary. In fact, she told Elizabeth that this was happening in retaliation because no one spreads a rumour without Mary without Mary making opposing accusations.

Allison: Immediately. 

Ann: Yeah, so Mary wrote to Elizabeth being like, “Well, you know what? Here’s what Bess told me about you and how much sex you’re having in the back door with Bobby Duds,” or whatever, [ Allison laughs] to slander Bess. So, this letter exists, the letter being like, “Here’s all the shit Bess said about you.” Such a letter is never recorded as being received by Elizabeth, but Cecil had it in his files, so she sent it.

Allison: He was like, “Absolutely the fuck not will I pass that along.” [laughs]

Ann: Pretty much, yeah. So, part of Mary’s ongoing just like, everything, is like, she hadn’t seen her son– I didn’t say this. Every book mentions that the last time she saw her son, James, he was 10 months old. She went to visit him and then she was kidnapped by Bothwell and now here we all are. Every single book mentions when she sees him, “And this was the last time she saw her son.” I didn’t want to say that on the podcast because there are a lot of people who don’t know this story but that was the last time she saw her son, when he was 10 months old. It’s now been 10 years or something. She has not seen him, she’s not allowed to communicate with him, this is really hard for her. 

Allison: He’s a whole human person that she’s essentially never met. He was a baby he had not developed a personality yet. She has no idea what her son is like.

Ann: And he’s being raised by, Allison, George Buchanan, the writer of the erotic fan fiction. [Allison laughs] That’s who he’s with. If you watch the Doctor Who episode where Alan Cumming plays adult James, Lana agrees, it’s the best casting, it’s just like, bisexual realness but Scottish person. The trauma he shows in this whimsical episode of just, like, how he was raised to hate his mother and how he absorbed that, and how that transfers into a hatred and mistrust of women, and people. It’s real! This is the root of some– Like, the King James Bible would perhaps be very different had Mary raised him.

Allison: All the witch panics of the 1700s. This is a whole thing. Thanks, George Buchanan!

Ann: So, he’s being raised there. Mary was sending letters and gifts including hand-embroidered items, a book of poems in her own handwriting, she had different gifts she wanted to send him, little toy guns and things and none of them were sent to him. 

Allison: “Toy guns, like the one used to kill my brother.”

Ann: [laughs] She also, notably, created in her embroidery frenzy, a set of bed hangings that basically tell the story of their family tree and of her life and of his life. So, it’s got the emblems of the royal dynasties that they are both connected to, de Guise, the Valois, the Stuart, Lorraine, along with– In her way, she’s doing spy shit, she’s embroidering with these meaningful images where you’re just like, “Oh look, a cat!” but then you learn what it means. So, these hangings also have:

Her experience of captivity was illustrated through illustrations of a bird in a cage, a lion in a net, a porcupine among sea rocks, or on a more hopeful theme, an apple tree growing on a thorn with the motto, “Her cause increased by captivity.”

I love her inclusion of really meaningful phrases with images, she’s really got an eye.

Allison: I know!

Anyway, so throughout all of this, this is all happening; she’s scheming, she’s doing all this stuff. But again, check in with her various health issues. So, she’s not thriving mentally or physically, she’s not allowed to move, and she can’t go outside. Mentally, she’s been going through it for several years. “Her hair was growing gray with stress and illness. She had it cut off to try and help her headaches,” like maybe her hair was hurting her head. Mary Seaton worked her magic with wigs and stuff.

Allison: I love Mary Seaton.

Ann: Mary Seaton is, like, I love that Mary Seaton was there for her. When we get down to talking about the supporting performance, Mary Seaton…

Allison: She’s been there since France, right? The whole time.

Ann: Yeah, yeah. Since they were little girls. She’s just crimping her hair, making wigs, making outfits, ordering fabric. She knows that this is a shitty situation, but these little things help Mary and Mary Seaton is there.

Allison: Yeah, making her feel like a person.

Ann: Yeah, Mary loves fashion, she loves looks. Making her feel good about how she looks is going to help her a little bit. “She had fainting fits, terrible headaches, fatigue, stomach pains,” from the gastric ulcer situation. 

Okay so, right now, again, I put down numbers where I could. So, 1575: She’s been held up in various English stately homes now for 7 years, she’s 32 years old. She has built up a menagerie of pets including turtle doves and barbery fouls. She wrote, “Besides knitting and sewing, my only pleasure is getting all the little beasts I can find.”

Allison: Aww, relatable.

Ann: I think you see also how many animals she embroiders. She clearly is an animal lover; she likes to have them around her as well. Little dogs, Allison .

Allison: I love Mary’s little dogs.

Ann: Just remember she has little dogs, that comes up later. Anyway, what is described as her “rich diet,” which I describe as 16-course meals three times a day, this was not good for her various stomach problems, eating all this really rich food all the time. There’s potentially stress-related irritable bowel syndrome. We just know what her symptoms are from the writings and from the doctors. She had terrible insomnia, throwing up a lot. She did have two doctors there all the time. I mentioned this before, she has an amethyst ring that she wore for healing purposes, it was supposed to help with her diverse melancholies. She begged her ambassador in Paris for a unicorn’s horn as a remedy, which, at this point, weren’t they from narwhals, maybe?

Allison: I think so? It could be from a rhinocedone or whatever she…

Ann: A rhinocerote. 

Allison: Thank you. [laughs]

Ann: Anyway, Mary believed her illness was due to her broken heart. She wrote, “No one can cure this malady as well as the Queen of England,” and that’s the broken heart that she describes, that Elizabeth was not helping her.

Allison: And she’s not wrong in that way. Everything that’s happening to her, it is physical but she’s only in this physical situation because Elizabeth is keeping her here.

Ann: Yes, exactly.

Allison: She’s not being overly emotional, she’s like, “This is Elizabeth’s fault why I’m like this.”

Ann: It is. So, asked to be allowed to take the waters, like another recurring theme of this podcast this season, bath, people who like baths. Anyway, “Take the waters and Buxton.” British listeners, tell me, is that still a place? She’s not going to Bath itself, but Buxton is a place with hot springs or something and Mr. and Mrs. Bess actually had a house built there so she could go there and hang out at the spa, and she went there numerous times over the years. Some thought she exaggerated her symptoms so she could go there more and honestly, maybe she did. Fuck you.

Allison: If she did, good for her.

Ann: I would too. [laughs] So, Buxton, similar to Bath where it’s just, like, other aristocrats and nobles would go there. People would go there because they knew she was there, the same way it’s like, “I heard there’s a celebrity staying in this spa,” so then normal people would go there to try and catch a glimpse of her. She’s still very famous. Bobby Duds would show up. [hushed tone] Bobby Duds, what is your life? I don’t know. I don’t… Not on purpose, I know a lot about the Kardashians because I exist in the world, but Bobby Duds is giving me, like, a Scott Disick vibe. It’s just like, why are you always around?

Allison: What are you adding to this picture? Why are you always here?

Ann: Who are you? Why are you here? It’s like, “You’re here? Okay.” So, her private secretary died, and she arranged to get a new private secretary and actually, some of the de Guise next generation helped her out with this. They got this French guy whose name was Claude Nau de la Boisseliere. He was French with connections to France, so he was able to help her out with this super-secret sexy network of people sending letters back and forth to the French ambassador. 

Allison: How did he get in there?

Ann: Yeah, exactly. He got in there because the de Guises somehow gave him this like, ambassador status or something where he was officially a diplomat. He went to England as a diplomat and then because he was a diplomat, they couldn’t be suspicious of him, or something like that.

Allison: He had diplomatic immunity so he couldn’t get arrested? It was like him running into the embassy and being like, “I can commit any crime I want!”

Ann: Yeah. So, Claude Nau, great. Great to have in on board, this is great. 

Allison: Also, I love that you clarified for me that he was French and had connections to France after you said his name, which, by the way… [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] His name which was not James Stuart? Yeah.

Allison: His name which was… Can you say it one more time for me, please?

Ann: Claude Nau de la Boisseliere. [laughs]

Allison: That man is French? [laughs]

Ann: Yeah, he’s French. Surprise.

Allison: Huh, who knew?

Ann: So now, 1578. She’s been there now for 10 years. This year, Bothwell dies in the dungeon in Denmark.

Allison: Good riddance.

Ann: In England, Lady Mary Grey dies in England and with her, the whole Grey family sisters’ claim to the throne leaving, from that side of things, who is the new threat to the throne? Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, [Allison giggles] who is also in Allison’s book. 

Anyway, the same year, more importantly to this story, in Scotland, Jeremy Jam from Parks and Recreation was forced to resign as regent because the asshole lords turned on him because they keep eating their own.

Allison: They cannot hold their shit together, these asshole lords. They get two years max and then we have to shake everything up.

Ann: So, he resigned and then… [laughs] BJ, King James VI of Scotland is 11 years old and he’s just like, “Fuck all of y’all, I don’t need a regent.”

Allison: “I’ll do it myself.” [laughs]

Ann: “Avenge my cause, oh Lord.” He is taking over. This was his final regent. He’s just like, “I can do this better than you adults, clearly, so fuck off.”

Allison: He was not wrong.

Ann: Meanwhile in England, Bobby Duds had a super-secret sexy marriage to Lettice Knollys, which annoys Elizabeth, [laughs softly] understandably. I think around this same time, the truth about his Douglas Sheffield and his child– Like, Robert Dudley had like three to four children all called Robert.

Allison: Each of them with a different secret wife, right?

Ann: Yup, yup.

Allison: Because he’s currently on… He’s had at least two wives. 

Ann: He was with Amy Dudley and then she died, they didn’t have children. Then he was with Douglas Sheffield, and they had Robert Dudley. Lettice Knollys already had a son called Robert who was Robert Devereux, another dirtbag for another day. Then Lettice and Bobby Duds had a son who they also called Robert. So, he’s just having kids all called Robert, is what he’s doing. 

Allison: Can you imagine? You’re like, “Oh, I have one stepson whose name is Robert, what should I name my next son? Robert. Definitely. So, there’s three of us. That’s going to be not confusing in any way.” That’s why when Ann was trying to make a reference to one of these Roberts to me earlier today, I was like, “Wait, not that one. Wait. No. Ahhh.” And then I had to google to remember which frickin’ Robert is the right Robert.

Ann: This same year, speaking of Ferdinando Stanley, 1578, this is the year that he, the only male heir from the Grey, from the Mary Tudor side of things, who is a Catholic and also a man, which is why he’s not the king, marries Alice Spencer, who we talked about in that book a while ago. I just wanted to mention all these things because it’s people we’ve talked about before on the podcast. Tudor era is just going on and Mary is just in this place, making depressing embroideries, writing spy shit letters, time is passing. 

So, this is the first year covered by the recently deciphered letters. The letters are mainly, most of the letters were sent from Mary to Michel de Castelnau, not that other guy, not Claude Nau, this is Michel de Castelnau, also a French person who is a French ambassador to England. So, she was sending letters to him. This is where they were found, they were in his personal files, the ciphered letters. 

So, some of these letters discuss things like Arbella Stuart who is, at this point, just a little baby. So, Mary is just reporting on everything that’s going on in this house and that she hears about. She’s like, “Hey, Castelnau,” the guy she’s writing to, “I just heard this and this and this. Tell Elizabeth that this scheme is happening but don’t tell her you heard it from me.” Mary has got her finger on the pulse of everything. Part of what was happening is that Bobby Duds was trying to get his son, one of the Roberts, married to Arbella Stuart, to try and make himself be grandfather of the king or whatever. 

Allison: Come on man, what are you doing?

Ann: What is happening? 

Allison: Bobby Duds needs to, like, I don’t know what he’s doing but he’s doing it incorrectly at every turn. It’s very frustrating because I always picture him as being played by Jeremy Irons, so I want him to be on top of things. But he is just this guy. 

Ann: Who I picture him being played by is Joseph Fiennes who played him in the Cate Blanchett movie and that goes along with this kind of himbo-dumbass vibe. 

Allison: Yes. Yeah, that tracks.

Ann: Yeah. So, I think in the one letter Mary is just like, “Hey, so Bobby Duds is trying to get his son married to Arbella Stuart so she can become the next queen. Tell Elizabeth that her boyfriend is fucking around but don’t tell her I told you,” because then people would know that Mary is writing to Castelnau. There was the whole thing where there’s the official channel where she would write to the ambassador being like, “Dear Mr. Ambassador, thank you for doing ambassador-like things.” So, there are official letters but then there are these secret letters in cipher. Anyway, she wrote also about Walsingham, she described him as being cunning, he tries to act like he’s nice and your friend but he’s not really. She’s like, “Don’t trust him, Castelnau.” And then in the same year, eventful year, 1578, this is like, I can’t not tell you this story. So, in 1578, a man named Esmé Stewart arrived in Scotland.

Allison: An Esmé! This is new.

Ann: Esmé is a name I’ve encountered twice before now, both in fiction. One of them is, Esmé is the mother of the vampire family in Twilight, Esmé Cullen, that’s why Bella’s daughter is called Renesmee. And then Esmé is a character in one of the, in the Lemony Snicket series.

Allison: I was going to say, A Series of Unfortunate Events, that’s where I first learned this name. 

Ann: I know but this is Esmé, man version. The Wikipedia entry about Esmé Stewart – which I did consult to be like who is he? – does say “He popularized the name Esmé,” and I’m like, “Not very well because I’ve never encountered anyone else called Esmé in Scottish history.” 

Okay, so Esmé Stewart, I promise this all leads back to Mary. She writes about this, so I had to learn about it. So, Esmé Stewart was a cousin of Darnley’s, surname Stewart. He’s also tall and hot like Darnley. He’s 37 years old, an adult man. And when he arrived in Scotland, little 13-year-old bisexual Baby BJ is like, [excited tone] “Who is this tall, hot person?!”

Allison: [laughs] Oh my god, I love that! Baby’s first crush.

Ann: It’s like how people claimed Mary acted when she first met Darnley but actually, James was like this when he first met Esmé. So, within a few months, Esmé was his main advisor, he gave him titles including, he’s the new Lord Darnley, which is a title, not a name, but we use it like a name.

Allison: [laughs] It’s so fucking perfect.

Ann: So, he makes Esmé the new Lord Darnley and also the new Earl of Lennox, which was his grandfather’s title. So, when Mary writes about him, she calls him the Earl of Lennox, and that’s how the cryptographers were able to date one of the letters, because Esmé, they know when he was named the Earl. There was one July when he was the Earl so they’re like, “That must be this year of this letter.“ So, that’s how they solved that. 

Anyway, so the asshole lords were very much still on the scene in Scotland. They’re upset about this because they didn’t want anyone else influencing him, other than them. Also, Esmé used to be Catholic, but he had converted to be Protestant but they’re like, “Hmm, he used to be Catholic.” Anyway, just a bunch of guys named James signing documents, being chaotic. At one point they were threatening Esmé to the point that Esmé and 24 of his armed followers had to barricade themselves overnight against the asshole lords who I guess were like, “But we have the paperwork! We’re going to murder you,” or whatever. 

Meanwhile, BJ giving Esmé jewels that he inherited from his mother. [laughs] I don’t know if it’s the turtle, but I feel like if it was there he’d be like, “I understand that this turtle jewel has significance Esmé, you are my Rizzio.”

Allison: “Be my turtle.” [laughs]

Ann: Yeah. So, then a new Scottish man– This is like, the years are passing by, and titles are being inherited by different people. I was doing so much of like, “Is this the same guy? No, it’s his son.” So, a new guy called James Stewart, not Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart.

Allison: [laughs] We needed another fuckin’ James Stewart in this group.

Ann: Some other guy from some other branch of the family. Anyway, he publicly accused… So, councilman Jeremy Jam is still around, he’s just not the regent anymore. But this guy, the other James Stewart, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart wearing a mustache in disguise? I don’t know. He publicly accused Jeremy Jam of having been involved in the Darnley murder, he said this in parliament or something. So, Jeremy Jam was arrested and taken into custody where it’s like, despite the fact that everyone here was complicit in the Darnley murder.

Allison: You all did this! Every single one of you. 

Ann: Probably this other James Stewart too. Anyway, so later, he confessed that Bothwell had told him about the plan, but Jeremy Jam swore he hadn’t been personally involved. But he was found guilty and was executed by an early version of the guillotine called The Maiden. So, you know what? Like, farewell, Jeremy Jam. Everything was a disaster and he just made everything worse at every turn. He was truly like councilman Jeremy Jam on Parks and Rec, was his vibe. 

Allison: He did not help, in any way. We will not miss him.

Ann: I do appreciate… I messaged Lana when I was reading some of this stuff. I was like, it’s gratifying to me that anyone who was against Mary ends up being murdered or executed pretty quickly, it’s like, that’s good. And Lana was like, “Yeah, but people who were friends of hers also were.” And I was like, “Mm, true.” 

Allison: Yeah, anybody who was near her got killed.

Ann: The only person in this entire saga who was not seemingly cursed is Jean Gordon and Skottefruen, Anna Throndsen, they both…

Allison: They escaped.

Ann: Jean Gordon lived a long life and did not die. But everyone else did, which just speaks to the chaos of it all. Anyway, I’m telling you all this because things in Scotland– So, first of all, James is like, “I’m 13, I’m in charge, don’t worry about.” Esmé shows up and he’s all like, “[huge gasp] Oh my god, Esmé!” and then he lavishes him with jewels. The assholes are mad. Jeremy Jam, they turn on him for, I don’t know why. 

So then, two months after Jeremy Jam is executed by a proto guillotine, a thing happened called the Raid of Ruthven. So, you remember Lord Ruthven?

Allison: I do. Was he the man in the suit of armour? 

Ann: He was actively dying but showed up to kill Rizzio while wearing a suit of armour.

Allison: That’s the man. Never forget. A man who loved an outfit but not in the right way. 

Ann: Yeah. So, this is his son, William Ruthven, who abducted 13-year-old James. The assholes just, you know how their whole lives, Mary and James were just trying to not be kidnapped, especially when he was a little baby. So eventually, they did. They kidnapped him and are being like, “Stop having Esmé. [laughs] Your crush is ruining the country.”

Allison: “I understand he’s very tall and very hot but please, pull it together.” We’ve all had an intervention with a friend that went something like that, right? “I understand he’s very tall and very hot but please honey, what are you doing?”

Ann: But they’re also like, they felt that Esmé represented this French connection, Catholic, even though he wasn’t Catholic anymore, they’re like, “He represents French Catholicness. You can’t have this influence around you.” They had also, maybe they were mad that Jeremy Jam had been executed, I don’t know. These guys, they never really had a reason for doing what they do, they’re just like, “Let’s sign this paperwork. Okay, I guess we’re going to kidnap James now.” They also gave themselves a new name, remember last time they were called the Confederate Lords, now they’re called the Lords Enterprisers. 

Allison: That’s even worse.

Ann: It’s like they make little membership cards like, “Okay, now we’re a club,” but it’s just the same people again.

Allison: No girls allowed, secret Scottish asshole lords club.

Ann: So, when they kidnapped BJ, much like his mother, he wept, he’s a crier, nothing wrong with that. And then for the next 10 months, he was moved around from castle to castle, not unlike his mother. 10 months. Did you know any of this happened? I did not.

Allison: I did not. And he’s the literal King of Scotland right now.

Ann: Yeah, yeah. This is where it’s like, people are like, “We don’t like Mary because she’s Catholic and a woman.” It’s like, if she was male and Protestant you would still mistrust them, as evidenced by this. The asshole lords are just not good at running a country. 

Anyway, so the recently deciphered letters show Mary was, understandably, frantic when she heard her son had been kidnapped by the guys who had murdered Rizzio and Darnley and ruined her life. 

Allison: Notorious for murdering any man who was next to her.

Ann: So, she’s like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe history is repeating.” So, she’s writing desperately to France for help, like, “Send French forces to rescue him.” Eventually, the French king did send some forces, but she wrote she was dissatisfied, feeling that she and her son had both been abandoned by France, which they had been. 

Allison: Rightly. 

Ann: Out of all of this, Esmé was forced into exile, he returned to France. He had some children, including a son he called Esmé, [laughs] Esmé Junior.

Allison: Love.

Ann: And another son called Ludovic which, bless you. It’s like, his name is Esmé, I was reading about someone else for something else and it was like, “And she married Ludovic Stewart.” And I was like, “Ludovic Stewart? Well, there can only be one. [gasps] Esmé’s son!” And it was.

Allison: Yay!

Ann: That was delightful. 

Allison: That’s way better than Bobby Duds having four Roberts running around. We got an Esmé and a Ludovic.

Ann: The thing with Esmé, and I think I told you this, I’m like, is he an interesting person or is it just that his name is Esmé, so I assume he’s interesting? And I’m not sure. But I do know he was tall and hot and had some sort of sexual awakening for the young teenage king.

Allison: A real Call Me By Your Name situation, I love it. 

Ann: [laughs] This could be another movie. 

Allison: Call me Esmé.

Ann: [laughs] Okay. So, in the story, we’re in the 10 months of his kidnapping. Initially, Elizabeth was like, “I’ll allow it, this is okay. I support the Protestant lords, this is fine.” Meanwhile, the people who opposed this included, our reliable, who has been on the right side of the story all along, Cock o’ the North Junior is there trying to rescue the king, he’s still on Mary’s side. He urged the townspeople of Edinburgh, important supporting characters this whole time, to arm themselves and to seize James, but the people of Edinburgh were like, “We’re over that kind of business. We want to be excluded from this narrative, we, the people of Edinburgh.” So, they did not follow up on that suggestion. 

Mary is writing so many letters she has so many plans. She’s like, “Okay, what if we rescue BJ and take him to France? What if we have the French musketeers invade? Maybe the Pope can pay for all this.” She’s got all these plans. But honestly, all she had to do was wait because the assholes never had a plan for longevity, it just all ran out of steam and eventually he was just freed, and the Lords Enterprisers were dismissed from court. 

I wanted to include that story partially just to show this is what a lot of the Mary letters were about but also just to show that Scotland is still just the same; she left but nothing has changed. 

Allison: Scotland is going to Scotland. 

Ann: Yeah. But also, this kind of partially explains some of the trauma that BJ lived through and can explain some of his various personality traits.

Allison: Some of his… going ons, yeah. 

Ann: Yeah. But also, I just wanted to talk about Esmé because I was really excited about Esmé. Elizabeth was displeased by the fall of the regime of the Lords Enterprisers because I think she’s just like, “These dummies will be really easy to control. I’m happy with them.” So anyway, then Walsingham was sent as ambassador to Scotland. He spoke with Baby BJ. [laughs]

Allison: I’m sure he looked at that child and was like, “Oh, fuck no, absolutely not.” [both laugh] I cannot picture people with more opposing personalities than those two.

Ann: Walsingham and 13-year-old James.

Allison: 13-year-old super horny James who misses his boyfriend, yeah. 

Ann: So, they spoke. I don’t know if he was talking to James or just the people around James, the adults, but Walsingham was just like, “Oh, Mary’s influence is still really strong in Scotland and it’s kind of confusing James, he’s not sure who to trust,” and has PTSD and is traumatized, I’m sure. Anyway, this visit really made Walsingham cement in his mind that, “Mary has to die!” He wrote to Elizabeth that “Mary, though she cannot live many years due to her illness would overthrow James.” So, what he saw was in Scotland, people were more loyal to Mary than to James, basically. If she came back, they would be cool with her being Queen again which is not what they want. Oh yeah, and we’ll hear some details about this meeting that you can’t quite imagine. Apparently, Walsingham found “James unable to take his complaint seriously, James laughed at Walsingham, [laughs softly] he told Walsingham that he was an absolute king that would order his subjects as he would…” He’s just like, “I got this Walsingham.” Can you imagine?

Allison: What I’m hearing is this is young Simba and Zazu trying to have a conversation which is just like, “I’m King, I get to do whatever I want.” And Walsingham is like, “If you go in the elephant graveyard, go fuck yourself. I’m going home.”

Ann: That’s exactly, exactly the vibe. Okay, okay, and then some guys hired a woman called Kate the Witch…

Allison: Yes!

Ann: … to disrupt Walsingham’s visit. So, they paid her £6 and a length of plaid cloth for her to stand outside the royal palace and just complain, [laughs] just yell to voice complaints. Kate the Witch, an icon.

Allison: [laughs] God, I did not know about Kate the Witch. That’s incredible. 

Ann: I love that Walsingham went to Scotland and just sees 13-year-old James, outside, Kate the Witch is being like, “Baaabe!” like in Princess Bride

Allison: He turns around to his servants, he’s like, “On second thought, let’s not go to Scotland, it’s a silly place.”

Ann: Yeah. so anyway, Mary is still going through it. “She wrote in ciphered letters how she was willing to give up claims of succession to the English throne if she was permitted to return to Scotland.” At this point, she’s offering a compromise that she and BJ could rule together, in an association, this is her offer. She also writes in these secret deciphered letters about how unpleasant her conditions are in captivity. Yes, living in a swamp house, being sick, and not being allowed outside, she had a lot of requests to try and improve her situation. She also wanted to make sure that her servants and allies were financially rewarded. And this has always been her thing, she likes to offer financial rewards to people. She’s a good tipper, basically.

Allison: She likes to pay for the weddings of people who give her good service. 

Ann: Yeah. And this is a way that she gets people to support her. “She suggests various people who could maybe be enticed to switch to her side if they were bribed enough, she asks for Castelnau’s help in recruiting new spies and courtiers while warning him,” rightly, “that some people working for her might be Walsingham’s secret agents.”

Allison: Yes, many of them in fact. [laughs]

Ann: All the people are Walsingham’s secret agents. [laughs]

Allison: Because all of her staff has to come with Elizabeth’s approval, and so who is Elizabeth going to send? Walsingham is like, “Okay, 14 guys. One of them can do codes and one of them is really good at listening through doors. Let’s just send them all and see what we can find out.”

Ann: And at this point, most of the people she knew– Her servants are mostly strangers. And I think at this point they’re forbidden from talking to her or something. So, I think Mary Seaton is still there, Yung Willy may or may not be. But they don’t want her to have people around her who she trusts and who she knows because…

Allison: They know that if she has people around who she can trust then she’s going to get secret messages out and she’s going to go find an army somewhere because she can.

Ann: There’s a sweet moment in one of the letters where she writes to Castelnau, thanking him for sending her a portrait of James, her son. She asks who was it painted by and when because she finds it looks different from other portraits she had received, which is just heartbreaking because she’s just like, “What does he look like? Is this more accurate than the other one? I thought he looked like this.” She had a little miniature of him next to her bed. She was really missing her son.

Allison: Which is so sweet and so sad because she doesn’t know how bad he sucks.

Ann: That’s true.

Allison: He took after Darnley.

Ann: He’s a copy-paste Darnley. It’s like what if Darnley was born King of Scotland?

Allison: What if Darnley but smaller? It’s the same…

Ann: What if mini-Darnley? Around the same time, this is exciting, we learn, again from Mary’s letters, she reveals in a letter that there was a close call. So, what had happened was Castelnau was sloppy, and he carelessly included a ciphered letter in with the regular mail and Mr. Bess of Hardwick got the regular mail and was supposed to go through it to make sure it was all in the up and up but he was just over it and he didn’t inspect it, so he didn’t notice the ciphered letter was there. But Mary was just like, “Watch your shit Castelnau, Jesus Christ!” Which is exciting, like, in the spy movie of this, would be a scene of the letter almost being seen but he was just like, “Meh, I don’t care.” 

In September 1582, erotic fan fiction author George Buchanan died, and Mary wrote in a letter, “Please send me a letter of that erotic fan fiction,” [Allison laughs] basically so no one else can read it, not just because for funsies. “Send it to me, I don’t want anyone else to see it.” 

So now, it’s 1583, bear in mind Mary has been scheming non-stop via letters this whole time. So, at this point, and this is where… Okay, so Ryan Phillippe is great at spy deciphering stuff, and she would send, she was like, “Here’s the new cipher code,” and she would sometimes send that out so it could also be, at times, perhaps, Walsingham intercepted that. So, it’s not necessarily cracking a code always, some of it could be, “Ooh, we got that table from somebody.” 

Allison: Right. Because if you’re sending this extremely complicated code to somebody for the first time, how are they going to read it unless…

Ann: You need to explain what the code is.

Allison: Yeah. But I do think she did like, variations on it as she went so you wouldn’t just give the code and “Oh, now I can read everything no problem.” You’re still working on it. But yeah.

Ann: So, there was this letter. She wanted to deliver a cipher table to a new ally whose name was Archibald Douglas, a Douglas!

Allison: A Douglas!

Ann: I was confused for a minute because Archibald Douglas was the name of Margaret Tudor’s shitty husband, Darnley’s ancestor. But this is a different person called Archibald Douglas who Wikipedia calls “A notorious intriguer,” so…

Allison: He liked to scheme. 

Ann: What we’re going to call him is A. Douglas. 

Allison: Because if you write his initials, that’s how he would sign letters is A. Douglas.

Ann: So, she’s got this new ally, A. Douglas. She needed to tell him about the table for the cipher. Here’s what’s so interesting about these letters, how things worked. So, she explained, “We need to get this cipher table to him, but we can’t let him know that you, Castelnau, are the person getting my ciphered letters. So, I’m going to send this to you, but I have some servants also going to London.” Basically, she wanted to have A. Douglas think that these women were the people who had brought the cipher table. She wanted this to be delivered to him secretly, I guess, in his room, just after the women left so he would think the women had brought it, but they were gone so they couldn’t ask him if he had brought it. So, even the couriers couldn’t know what the channel was. And this is just to protect at all levels, and this is the level of scheming that’s, like, she’s so on the ball, she’s so thinking about it.

Allison: She’s three steps ahead of everybody all the time.

Ann: Just the way that she was like, “Okay, I want you to deliver this letter to him but wait until these other people are there so he thinks they brought it but wait until those other people have left so he can’t ask them.” It’s like “Oh my god!”

Allison: And what she’s delivering is the code to a secret code that she’s going to send her letters in. This is all so she can send him a note. It’s so elaborate.

Ann: It’s so elaborate and then when they get new couriers– And in the ciphered letters she’s explaining, “Here’s what I want you to do. There’s this new courier.” First, you just get them to send a blank piece of paper, just to see if they’re trusted. It’s not just like, “Hey, great you’re my new courier, let’s do it.” There are so many tests and making sure people are okay. So, according to a contemporary source, A. Douglas “was playing the double part of betraying Mary to Walsingham and pretending to betray Walsingham to Mary.” So, A. Douglas, like everybody, playing both sides. 

Anyway, 1583, this is the year Walsingham was finally able to infiltrate the Mary-Castlenau communication channel by recruiting a spy at the French embassy. So, what’s also interesting about these newly ciphered letters, is that we knew that at this point, 1580-whatever… 1580…

Allison: 3?

Ann: 3. We knew that the secret channel was in place, but these letters proved the secret channel had been in place since 1578 which was not previously known. So, this was working without Walsingham knowing about it for several years.

Allison: For five years.

Ann: Yeah, yeah. Which shows how good she is. Anyway, this brings us to Francis Throckmorton and the Throckmorton Plot. We did have a Throckmorton earlier; we had Throcko who was the one who was smuggling letters to Mary in Lochleven in the scabbard of his sword or whatever.

Allison: And I said to you tellingly, “Isn’t that guy suspicious?” And what I meant was, “This guy is suspicious.” [laughs] The other Throckmorton.

Ann: Yes. So, this is Francis Throckmorton. He is related to Throcko from before, he’s like his nephew or something, not his son but same family. This, Throcko 2.0, is a young man. The years are passing so Mary’s supporters are now like dumbass 20-year-olds, is who her main supporters are at this point.

Allison: Yes. [laughs] And that goes as well as you think it will.

Ann: Yeah, yeah. So, Throcko 2.0 is this young man. He was travelling in Paris and while he was there, he met some Catholic Mary supporters and he was like, “You know what, yeah that all makes sense. I’m going to go back to England and I’m going to be a secret spy for Mary because great.” So, he started working as a courier for her super-secret letters through the French embassy. The deciphered letters show her mentioning him as a trusted courier but does not contain any details about any plot but just, he’s a guy that she knew about. I mention that to say, he’s got a plot, but Mary didn’t know about the plot. He’s just… this is like a paragraph. 

So, right away, Throcko 2.0 starts being a courier. The mole at the French embassy told Walsingham and then Throcko was taken into custody, basically right away. He was actually caught in the act of encoding a letter to Mary, Queen of Scots when he was arrested.

Allison: Which, like, does he have one letter normally that just says, “This is a letter from Mary, Queen of Scots,” and then a half-completed code open on the table next to him? And then someone opens the door and is like, “What are you doing? My man.” [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] So, after his arrest, Mary did write in the ciphered letter she was mad at how he was being treated badly, he was suffering upon his arrest because he was a trusted courier. So, he was taken to the Tower of London and another conspirator was also arrested and questioned but released after making a deal with Walsingham. Walsingham is just turning everybody. 

So, what the Throckmorton Plot was, Throcko had sent a casket– I don’t know why it’s always called a casket in this story; it’s not a little tiny coffin but that’s what I picture. 

Allison: Same.

Ann: He had sent some documents to the Spanish ambassador and basically, he was a minor player, he had been manipulated into doing this and the significance of him was to confirm the extent of the Spanish involvement in seeking to overthrow Elizabeth. So, he didn’t really have– This is called the Throckmorton Plot but it’s kind of like, Throckmorton is a dumbass, is what happened.

Allison: Yes, it’s the Throckmorton got caught plot. But he does have the most memorable name of anyone involved in this plot, so I understand why they did that.

Ann: Yeah, Throckmorton is a great name. But still, Mary and her allies, they’re on their shit so even after Throcko 2.0 was arrested, another guy was able to carry Mary’s confidential letters for another year after this without being caught so she’s still on it.

Allison: She did not stop for a second, she’s like, “Okay, I’ll find another guy, don’t worry.”

Ann: “Got another courier, we’re good.” So, Throcko 2.0 “Confessed after being tortured, was put on trial and was executed.” But him being arrested for “plotting,” this is where things really start to be like, are people plotting or is Walsingham just making them look like they’re plotting so that he can get shit done? And it’s kind of both.

Allison: Mm-hm. I think he’s airing on the side of, “Let’s assume they’re plotting.” I don’t know that he’s planting information necessarily, but I think he’s just like, “There’s a 33% chance that this person is guilty so I’m going to have them executed just to make sure.”

Ann: Yeah, and I think it’s to his benefit because the more people are plotting, the more they can put more strict rules around Mary, making her life more uncomfortable which could make her more desperate. Ultimately, Cecil and Walsingham want to entrap her in treason, and they need to get her psychologically to a place where she’ll mess up. That’s what they’re doing, it’s a long game. Anyway, so this all happened. 

Castelnau, they found out that he was getting these letters, so he was confronted, and he promised Walsingham he would show him all the letters to and from Mary but just before making this promise he had sent Mary a packet containing a bunch of letters that had been piling up recently. So, he’s like, “I’ll let you see all the letters, except for these 50 that I just sent her.”

Allison: “All the ones that I send, starting today.”

Ann: And then he was sent back to France, Castelnau. So, most of the letters were found were from this Castelnau era, from 1578 to 1584 basically. And then he was replaced by a new French ambassador, but Mary does not seem to have been sending him secret letters, she had other new plans. 

So, at this point, Walsingham and Cecil made up another one of these wild rules. So, it’s called the Bond of Association that just says that everyone who signs this thing… It’s their version of the Ainslie’s Tavern Bond, they’re like, “Okay, let’s do some paperwork.”

Allison: They’re signing papers.

Ann: “Scotland style.” So, just everyone who signs this letter agrees to execute anyone who tries to usurp the throne or assassinate Queen Elizabeth. Mary herself even signed it, she was like, “Sounds good to me.” It’s all further entrapping her, basically. Time continues on. [ laughs] Now it’s February 1585. At what point does your book start?

Allison: 1585.

Ann: Okay, because Tony Babs is going to be on the scene shortly and that’s kind of where your book is, right?

Allison: Mm-hm.

Ann: So, time continues on. February 1585, Bess and Mr. Bess are officially now estranged.

Allison: They’ve been mixed up in dating in prison for 12 years, right? This is not helping anybody.

Ann: No. So, I think Elizabeth tries to get them to come together and they’re just like, “No, no, no. This marriage is ended forever, thank you.” So, emotionally, everyone is worn out. 

And then another dumbass is caught doing another badly thought-out scheme. This time it’s a guy called William Parry. He had been working for Cecil to spy on the Catholics but then he switched over, being among the Catholics, he decided to switch to the Catholic side, which is like in the first Fast and Furious movie where the person is just won over by the other side and switches teams. So, he became a double agent, like everybody. “He sought approval for an assassination scheme,” so he was in France and Italy, I don’t know, approval? Just being like, “Hi, do you approve of me?”

Allison: Right, that’s wild. Like, “Hi, if I assassinate someone, will we all be cool with that?” Like, bro, why are you asking permission?

Ann: It’s ridiculous. What’s crazy is, when I was researching this, I knew about the Ridolfi Plot and I knew about the Babington Plot, which we are going to get to. But a couple of people mentioned the Throckmorton Plot and the Parry Plot, and I was like, “What are those?” And I had to dig around a bit to find them because it’s like, “They’re not plots, they’re just dumbasses. It’s just two dumbasses.” There’s not really much to it. So, he returned to England, this is wild. Part of why he was doing this was because he had a lot of debts and I think he realized that if he became a double agent, he could make more money, I guess by being paid by both sides?

Allison: That seems high risk for that.

Ann: So, he came to England, and he came clean, and he was like, “Hey, so I was going around being a double agent, trying to assassinate you, Elizabeth but it’s just because I’m in debt.” And she’s like, “Great. Here’s a pension and a seat for you in parliament for you, William Parry.” 

Allison: What?! Wild move.

Ann: But he still had lots of debts and so he wanted to make a false plot so he could look like a hero, a false flag operation, literally. So, he approached some other guy and suggested to him that they should ride up and shoot the Queen in her coach or kill her during a private audience because he wanted…

Allison: He wanted to be able to stop it, so it could look like, “Oh, look I saved you from this thing that I pre-planned.”

Ann: “Please give me money to pay off my debts some more.” The other guy, unsurprisingly told on him. Parry was expelled from government, taken to the Tower of London, and then was executed for just being an idiot. 

Allison: What a dumbass, Jesus.

Ann: What are you doing? It’s just… yeah. So, the connection to Mary, Queen of Scots with this is that Castelnau was alleged to have carried letters to Parry, so this led to the suspicion that Mary, Queen of Scots was involved in any of this stuff, which is like, no, this guy was just freelance, wildcard dummy. 

Allison: It’s just a wackadoodle man. She wouldn’t have trusted that. 

Ann: No. It’s kind of like how it’s like Mary had done some banking with Ridolfi, I don’t know. Does that make her…? But this isn’t the definite proof that Cecil needs. At around this time, after 14 years, Mr. and Mrs. Bess were relieved of their duties and no longer had to babysit Mary, Queen of Scots anymore. Good news for them but bad news for Mary because her new babysitter was a Puritan asshole named Amias Paulet. 

Allison: What a name!

Ann: Who suuucks. So, he was a Puritan. He’s kind of like, it’s a bit John Knox vibes. He’s very anti-Catholic, very anti-woman. He had previously served as one of Elizabeth’s privy councillors, he had zero tolerance for Mary’s womanly emotions, and he had no tolerance for her Catholic faith. This is kind of why he had been chosen. Cecil and Walsingham were just like, “Let’s psychologically break this woman. How can we do this?”

Allison: “The easiest way is to go get our own John Knox and send him.”

Ann: “We know that that was distressing to her before.” So, whereas, Lettice’s Dad and Mr. Bess, they had sort of been like, “Okay Mary, you can…” like, they followed the rules but let her get away with some stuff. But Amias Paulet was just like– He’s, I picture the guy, I don’t know the name of the actor, but he was in Game of Thrones, the gross dad of the women and he had babies with all his daughters. And in the Harry Potter movies, he played the janitor. Do you know that guy?

Allison: Oh yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh my gosh. 

Ann: I picture that guy. I’m sure as a person, I don’t know anything about him as a person but the roles he plays are all this greasy unpleasant grosso and that’s just who I imagine.

Allison: David Bradley, who is extremely good at what he does which is unsettling on screen.

Ann: David Bradley. So, put him in some Puritan clothes and that’s who this is. So, Mary was forbidden to give money to the poor, she was forbidden to tip her household staff. And you know giving gifts was her love language but also a way she got people to be on her side, which is why it was forbidden but this upset her. And then they also isolated her from communication with the outside world; she was not allowed to give or receive any letters to or from anyone. They wanted her to become desperate for information, they wanted her to become foolish, they wanted her to become reckless so they could lure her into an incriminating plot and then have official proof so they could execute her. Cecil knew Mary was vulnerable when stressed so Paulet’s job was to make sure that she was stressed constantly. 

So, Mary by now, you know the years are passing. There are so many points in this story where I was like, “She’s only 24? Jesus Christ.” But now time is passing, she’s now 41. She’s been in prison since she was 25. Her physical health continues to decline. Paulet wrote:

The Queen has kept to her bed 6 to 7 days, being very much grieved with ache in her limbs so as she is not able to move in her bed without great help and when she is moved indoors, great pain. 

So, her health is suffering, mentally she’s suffering. He didn’t care.

Allison: He sucks so baaaad!

Ann: I think he told her, if you weren’t Catholic, you wouldn’t be sick now, basically. Oh yeah, “I told her that the passionate and discontented mind did more to increase her sickness than the coldness of this house or any other thing whatsoever.” 

Allison: Hey, fuck you man! What the hell?

Ann: I think she’s back in the swamp house but I’m not sure.

Allison: I think it’s still Sheffield, right?

Ann: You’re right. Yeah, she’s in Sheffield. She’s not in the swamp house, she’s not in Tutbury. Because Sheffield, that’s where your book, the Mary parts, take place.

Allison: Mm-hm, about half of it. Because she’s still bouncing around castles at this point. We still have a couple more, “Surprise, new house!”

Ann: Also, at this point, Mary Seaton left her service, she was allowed to leave. She went to retire at a French convent. So, who is doing her wigs? I don’t even know. Mentally and physically fragile. By now, her son, BJ, is 20 years old.

Allison: Which is insane, that she hasn’t seen him in 20 years and he’s now a full-grown adult! It’s just so crazy.

Ann: It’s wild, yeah. There had been the idea that the two of them could rule jointly but he had been raised to hate her so of course he didn’t want to do that, he chose instead to ally with Elizabeth, and this broke Mary’s heart. She, at this point, she knew Elizabeth wasn’t going to help her, T-Dog, that’s all years in the past, but she was kind of being like, “Okay, I’m going to wait until my son is an adult and then he will rescue me.”

Allison: He’s the last hope that she has, really. Someone is going to come and help, it’ll be James.

Ann: No. James had been raised to hate Mary and to think she had killed Darnley and that she was a whooore, et cetera. But also, Elizabeth had bought his loyalty with money and the vague promise that he would be her heir, so he sacrificed Mary to improve his chances of becoming king of England next. Mary wrote to Elizabeth, “I am so grievously offended at my heart at the impiety and ingratitude that my child has been constrained to commit against me.” 

Her household staff had decreased because Amias Paulet was not going to pay Mr. Bess levels of money to keep her living… I’m guessing there are no more 16-course meals. So, she’s just at, the betrayal she felt at what James did, it was quite a period of time where she was with Amias Paulet, not able to do anything, and then James betrayed her. So, she’s emotionally, physically, at a really low point which is where Cecil and Walsingham wanted her because that would make her desperate and willing to go along with a plot that previously she might have thought was pretty stupid which brings us to Tony Babs, Anthony Babington. [sighs

So, to recap from last time, at age 10, he had become a ward to Mr. Bess, and he’d been a page in that household. Or do you want to–? What do you know about him? Tony Babs is in your book, what do you know about him?

Allison: I know him mostly in the context of the plot, but he is a nobleman of medium quality. He’s not particularly powerful, he came through as a page in the house and then he’s kind of making his way in the world. He’s not destitute but he’s not a rich and powerful person who is really helpful to have on your side, necessarily.

Ann: He’s also played in the movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age by Eddie Redmayne so that’s who I picture.

Allison: You can picture Eddie Redmayne, the vibes there are pretty correct.

Ann: If you picture 20 years ago Eddie Redmayne, just really baby twink Eddie Redmayne is who he is to me, which was interesting because when I was starting to read about the plots I was like, “I remember in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Eddie Redmayne is in that movie, playing someone who points a gun at Elizabeth. Is that William Parry? Who is that? Oh, that’s Anthony Babington.” They took a real shortcut there in terms of the Babington Plot point.

Allison: Yeah, I don’t think Anthony Babington ever came at Elizabeth with a gun.

Ann: No. Baby Eddie Redmayne. So, Tony Babs, after kind of spending some time in the household of Bess and Mr. Bess, he went to France and started working… [laughs] It seems like when anyone goes to France, they become a double agent working for Mary. France as a country, very persuasive.

Allison: Honestly, that is sort of what happened. There were lots of convents and seminaries and stuff set up in north France, which was the training ground for people who wanted to get their Catholic faith together and then come over and start plotting against Elizabeth. It really was like, “Here’s where we launch all of our spies from.” So, Walsingham knew that, and he had agents in those little French towns which were all of these suspicious places. He’s like, “I need y’all to pretend to be Catholics, pretend to be double agents. So, what you’re really doing is being a triple agent and just let me know who I shouldn’t trust.”

Ann: Oh my gosh. Also, the Eddie Redmayne of it all and what you just described and just, his kind of young idealism, reminds me of Eddie Redmayne in the Les Misérables movie and kind of those guys.

Allison: Yes, it’s exactly that! 

Ann: Where they’re just kind of like, “We’re full of idealism and we’re also young and dumb and don’t understand what we’re up against. But we have idealism!”

Allison: “We have lots of ideas and no brains!” And I’m like, “Okay, Eddie Redmayne, what are we doing?”

Ann: You’re going up against Walsingham and you’re like, “But I have heart!” So, Mary, Queen of Scots has been imprisoned, to emphasize, for 18 years.

Allison: Almost more time in prison than out of prison in her life.

Ann: Yeah, because she was in Scotland for five years, then she went to France until she was 18, then she ruled Scotland for six, seven years, and now she’s been in prison for 18 years. This is like…

Allison: And she was in Lochleven for a year too, right?

Ann: Yeah, yeah. So, this is…

Allison: If you add up prison time…

Ann: Yeah, basically half her life. Yeah. But the amount of time that has passed is… So, a new generation of Catholics forgot about how– If you will recall, back when she was ruling Scotland, her whole deal was, “It’s cool to be Catholic, it’s cool to be Protestant, let’s just get along, no big deal” which is actually very progressive of her and if she had jumped in there and been more like, “I’m Catholic! Blah!” things might have gone differently, I don’t know. Also, I have to say, that’s what she was like in Reign. In Reign, she was like, “Let’s be cool Catholics and Protestants.” It didn’t work out, but in terms of accuracy, I’m like, “Oh, that was what she was like.” 

Anyway, so even when she had been the Catholic queen of Scotland she was like, “Protestants are cool too.” So much time had passed that now Catholics were like, “She is such a pure Catholic,” and it’s like, “That’s not going to…” Like, she is but they sort of…

Allison: She’s a very personally devout Catholic and they’re using that to be like, “And also, she will be our Mary I and really spread what we need and put us back in power.” 

Ann: They were seeing her as a still alive Catholic martyr/saint which is kind of not who she was but if that would help her, sure. 

And remember the whole thing where the Pope was like, “Anyone who kills Elizabeth gets a thumbs up from me, the Pope.” So, Tony Babs was like, “Great I’m going to do this thing the Pope wants. I’ve been trained in this Les Mis roomfuls of idealistic kids.” By this point, English Catholics were not doing great. Oh my god, these fucking laws. So, Cecil and Walsingham, I’m saying them and not Elizabeth because they’re the ones making these laws, I think. She signed off on it, but this was them.

Allison: I don’t think she was a zealous Protestant, but I do think she was like, “Protestantism is correct because that’s me, head of my church and so anybody who is a Catholic is defying my authority in that way.” I think she did see it kind of as a treasonous thing if you were Catholic because then “You’re not respecting me and this particular authority that I have as head of the Church of England.”

Ann: And the thing when there was the Northern Rebellion, she executed all those Catholics. It’s true, she is as Protestant as Mary is Catholic. But I don’t know. When it talks about making these laws, I don’t know if Elizabeth is thinking out these laws or if Cecil and Walsingham suggest it to her and she’s like, “Great, love it.”

Allison: I do think whatever the case, she is fully on board.

Ann: She is fully on board, definitely. So, the latest law that the three of them have come up with is that if anyone was found to have encouraged someone else to convert to Catholicism, that first person would be charged with treason and executed. So, another thought crime situation. Anyway, the Pope was like, “Oh really?” So, he sent a group of undercover Jesuits. I love the phrase “Undercover Jesuits,” just basically missionaries. These are the guys, the Jesuits later would be involved with Ferdinando Stanley, I believe he was [hesitant tone] assassinated by Jesuits…?

Allison: [high-pitched and hesitant] Possibly? There are questions involved. [laughs]

Ann: Undercover Jesuits are infiltrating England where it’s now apparently treasonous to be a missionary to be Catholic. So, then Cecil and Walsingham and Elizabeth found out about the undercover Jesuits– I feel like that’s a T-shirt, but I shouldn’t, no. It would be a good band name, Undercover Jesuits.

Allison: It sure would be. 

Ann: Anyway, so they passed a new law saying any Jesuits found in England would be condemned to death. So, they keep doing a thing, then find a loophole, and then they’re like, “Well, here’s a law that’s specific to that.”

Allison: They’re trying to legislate their way out of revolution and it’s not going to… That’s not sustainable but okay.

Ann: Things are just heating up, things are not getting better vis à vis Catholics versus Protestants and Mary is just this icon, seen as this icon, not as a person; she represented this threat. The Catholics wanted to free her so she could take over, but Elizabeth, Cecil, and Walsingham knew as long as she was alive and there, that was a threat and they had to get rid of her somehow. 

So, we still had some leftover dummies from the Throcko Plot, the Parry Plot, just lurking around, just freelance 20-year-old men who are just like, “We’re a bunch of little Eddie Redmaynes and want to do something.” So, Cecil and Walsingham got some of them to sign on as double agents. One of these guys was a guy called Gilbert Gifford, which I always write as Gilbert Gottfried. 

Allison: I read it the same way every time. I’m like, “My god, this man.” [laughs

Ann: So, Gilbert Gottfried was one of these dummies. His job was to lure Tony Babs into a scheme that Walsingham and Cecil would secretly oversee to entrap Mary in treason. So, Gilbert Gottfried was given a job working for Mary’s household. So, he’s the go-between between Tony Babs and Mary. So, Mary would give the letters to Gilbert Gottfried, Gilbert Gottfried would give the letters to Tony Babs, allegedly.

Allison: In between he would read them and pass them on the Walsingham and be like, “Here’s what’s going on.” 

Ann: No, first they pass them to Ryan Phillippe who would decode them, [both laugh] potentially rewrite… there are several people in between. But as far as Mary knew, Gilbert Gottfried was just sending letters directly to Tony Babs. So, she hadn’t received any letters in over a year because of the janitor from Harry Potter.

Allison: The law specifically against Mary getting letters, basically. [laughs]

Ann: Yeah, yeah. So, when Gilbert Gottfried showed up and was like, “Hey. I’m your new household servant and I’m able to smuggle letters in and out between you and your supporters,” she’s like “Yes, please!” Because she’d been psychologically broken down and was trusting anyone at this point because what else… 

Allison: 18 years ago, Mary would have had a lot more follow-up questions. But after 18 years of sitting, being unable to speak to anybody she’s like, “Okay great, let’s do it.”

Ann: Okay Allison, do you want to describe, or how much do you know about Gilbert Gottfried’s strategy to smuggle letters inside casks of beer?

Allison: Yes, the classic wine barrel situation. I’ve always had such a hard time picturing this in my brain, like, don’t the letters get wet? Sneaking them into the casings of wine barrels and sending them out to Babington’s house, I believe, right?

Ann: Yeah, again, I had said at the beginning my references, but A Tip for the Hangman was one of my sources for this episode. I think you said in the back, in your author’s note, you’re like, “I’m really sad I couldn’t involve the wine barrel smuggling” and I was like, “Ooh, Allison knows about the wine barrel smuggling, I’ll have to ask her about that.” But yeah, I was looking at diagrams of casks of barrels because they’re like, “They put it in this thing!” And I’m like, “The what thing?” So, it’s like, somehow, you’ve got a barrel and it’s got a cork sort of thing that goes in it, you fill the barrel through this hole in the barrel, and then you put a cork in it and somehow, they were wrapping the letters around where that cork part goes, where that hole is. 

Allison: It seems like that would still get it wet with wine though, right? I’m imagining there’s an elaborate packing situation that I have a hard time visualizing.

Ann: Unless there’s, like, if the cork is hollow and you put the letter in… I don’t know.

Allison: Then you’d have to make sure the barrel never tilts in any direction. “This side up,” for sure.

Ann: Here’s how I copied it down, how somebody described it. So, “The letters were wrapped around the bung, which is the cork that fills up the bung hole, which is where the beer or wine is poured into.” Like, what? Anyway, it’s like, how is this happening? The thing is that the brewer was also working for Walsingham and was in on this. 

Allison: Because every single person in England was working for Walsingham at this time. Everybody.

Ann: But the reason why they’re getting wine and beer deliveries is because that is what people drank then. There was actually a nice thing where…

Allison: Because the water was poison.

Ann: Yeah, if you don’t want to die of dysentery, here’s what you do. Back when she was writing to Castelnau she was like, “Please send me some good wine, the wine here is terrible,” [laughs softly] and he did.

Allison: I read that Mary would actually wash her face in wine because the water was so gross. Which is wild.

Ann: Yes! She did. I read that and I forgot to put that in my notes. This is part of the cost to Mr. Bess, where it’s like, did she wash her face 16 times a day with white wine? Maybe. And he had to have enough for that because she’s a queen.

Allison: I’m sorry, it seems so sticky. It seems so sticky.

Ann: It does, I don’t know. But you know what? Elizabeth has been smearing lead on her face, so people just had different standards for what is comfortable or not on skin. 

So, she’s still got her French secretary, did I mention he’s French? Claude Nau de… [gibberish]

Allison: Monsieur de Lumière, yes.

Ann: [laughs] Jerry Orbach as Lumière. So, she has him as her secretary and then also Gilbert Curle.

Allison: Different Gilbert. 

Ann: Not Gilbert Gottfried, and not Gilbert the son of Mr. Bess. Suddenly, there are multiple Gilberts? What is happening? I don’t know, it’s a new generation, 18 years have passed. So, she works through secretaries on this new set of– She’s like, “Oh my god, we’re writing letters again! You guys, let’s make some new ciphers.” And this is the cipher table that you can see on display in a museum, I’m not sure which one. But I’m sure you looked at this a lot when you were writing your book. 

Allison: Yes. It is super complicated but at the same time, I feel like if you handed me the table, I could figure it out. If you just handed me a letter done in this cipher, I would stare at it for a thousand years. It’s somewhere between mathematical symbols and Egyptian hieroglyphics. It’s really interesting to look at.

Ann: At this point though too, I will say, I was listening to a podcast where the cryptographer guys, they were talking about it or someone was talking about this situation and they were saying, Mary was so trusting in the ciphers that no one would ever uncipher it. Especially at this point where she’s not doing great emotionally and mentally, she just assumed no one would ever understand these ciphers. But she had been, I don’t know, cipher technology… It’s almost like by this point, the cipher was old-fashioned. Ryan Phillippe, it was not even a challenge for him to do this anymore because Walsingham had really pushed spy shit into a new level that Mary, like, ten years ago, five years ago this would have been an okay cipher but now it’s just like, “Oh no, this is nothing compared…”

Allison: And she hasn’t had any contact with the outside world for 18 years, she doesn’t know what the cool kids are doing now. She’s like, “This is the most sophisticated cipher that I know so I’m going to use it.”

Ann: Yeah, exactly. So, Tony Babs, who is just being used, Tony Babs thinks he’s like…

Allison: Just an absolute dummy.

Ann: He thinks he’s this hero but really, Cecil and Walsingham hired Gilbert Gottfried who is doing this. Tony Babs doesn’t realize that this was a setup from the beginning. So, via beer barrels, somehow, he sent all the piled-up correspondence that had been waiting for her at the embassy for a year…

Allison: My man! Spread it out! Be a little bit strategic. What are you doing?

Ann: So, he sent her all the… She’s just excited to get letters. She didn’t know and then she wrote back, Gilbert Gottfried was taking all her letters straight to Ryan Phillippe who would decode them, send them to Walsingham, who would send them to Cecil, who would copy them, then they’d send them back to the embassy and then send them onto who Mary had wanted them to. So, the letters still got to where they were intended to go but they were just intercepted by like three people in between. 

Allison: Who were reading them out to the entire privy council like, here’s all the information that everyone needs to know today. 

Ann: Yeah. And so, the thing with Ryan Phillippe, we talked about before, he was an expert forger, he could rewrite the letters. So, sometimes he would just unfold-refold them. But sometimes he could redo the letter exactly so he’d just recreate the letter if he couldn’t. Some of them, it’s like, you write the letter then cut off the side and weave it in and out so as soon as you open it, it rips. You can’t undo that. So, he would just redo it. He was just so good! What is this skill set? How do you learn it? Ryan Phillippe! I don’t know. Part of me is thinking, is this some sort… You know, sometimes people with neurodivergence can be so good at playing piano. I think Ryan Phillippe has the knack for this and he happened to live at the time and place that Walsingham found him. In today’s world, if he lived now in my city, what would his job be? I don’t know. But he lived there.

Allison: He’s one of those people who would solve a Rubik’s Cube in three seconds.

Ann: Yeah. And that’s it, he’d just be on TikTok making money, I guess. But he was so perfectly suited to this task and without him…

Allison: None of this could have…

Ann: No. Ryan Phillippe, whose name we don’t know, his name is just Phillippe, we don’t know his real name, but he’s a star of this. Too bad he was on the other side, not Mary’s side.

Allison: I know. But perfect alignment of need and skill.

Ann: And just Walsingham’s, like, his scouting, finding this guy. Where did you find this guy? Was he a street hustler? Was he solving some sort of like…

Allison: I bet you this guy could flawlessly– I like to imagine that he was a petty criminal in the art world or something and Walsingham like, white-collared him. [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] I don’t know. I picture him on the street with the ball under the cups and it’s like, “Which one is it under?” And they’re like, “That guy. I bet he could do expert forgery.” 

But I said I think in an earlier episode, maybe last week, Mary’s handwriting could be easily copied; it wasn’t weird, it was very standard handwriting. So, Ryan Phillippe had all these skills, but I think forging Mary’s handwriting, was like, with the Casket letters we have seen, not hard. Her handwriting was pretty basic, it’s not weird. Anyway, so honestly, Ryan Phillippe, again. So, part of these codes, we talked before about the letters in a pile of letters. So, which letter was on top of which letter would amplify a message. How are these in beer casks? I don’t know.

Allison: And which beer casks do you open first? 

Ann: Yeah. And then the letters might be stitched together in a complicated pattern. But Ryan Phillippe was able to decipher the codes, replicate what was going on and then put them back in that same order. It’s just like…

Allison: Insane. Just insane. How?

Ann: What is happening? Anyway, Tony Babs was tricked into thinking– The whole thing we said before. To unseat Elizabeth, you need to have a whole army coming from Spain or Rome, the Vatican. So, Tony Babs was tricked into thinking that the Spanish forces were good to go and that the English Catholics were primed and ready. So, he wrote to Mary being like, “Everything is in place, oh my god. I’m 18 years old and I’m amazing.” He recruited friends to join him and then wrote a long, incriminating treason letter outlining the plan. 

Allison: Yes, he did. He’s just like, “Here’s my treason, let me describe it in excruciating detail. Name all of the other people who are involved and tell you exactly what we’re going to plan to do, and no one needs to worry about…” 

Ann: “Because this cipher is so foolproof.” So, the plan was that Tony Babs, along with 10 of his pals would free Mary with 100 supporters at their backs. I feel like the amount of armed guards around Mary is more than that.

Allison: I do feel like 100 people is not enough people but okay, Tony Babs.

Ann: Meanwhile, six other guys, six, would go grab Elizabeth and execute her. 

Allison: That’s my favourite part of the plan, six men. [laughs] It was like, “Me and five of my other bros, one of whom I think was a priest.” I’m just like, what are we doing my man? How are you even going to get in through the door?

Ann: Six guys. Even when the asshole lords in Scotland are doing stuff, they’re like, “We have 500 guys, they all signed the paper? Great.” 

Allison: If you’re going to go with six dudes, just at least wait until Spain shows up because this is not going to happen.

Ann: Six guys couldn’t have kidnapped 13-year-old Baby BJ. Six! [sighs] Okay, so this letter comes being like, “Hey Mary, here’s my plan blah-blah-blah,” and then her secretary Claude Nau was like, “That feels like a trap.” [both laugh] To his credit he’s like, “Uhh, maybe don’t reply to this letter agreeing to treason, maybe.” So, she wrote back saying, “I approve of this plan but be careful!” But this was a trap, she fell into the trap. She had condoned treason by saying “I approve of this plan.” To be sure though, when this letter was in the in-between stages, Ryan Phillippe or Walsingham added a PS to the letter from Mary where Mary was like, “Hey, this treason sounds great. PS Can you tell me the names of the six guys?” That was what Walsingham added.

Allison: [laughs] I love it so much.

Ann: And then Tony Babs is like, “Oh yeah, for sure. It’s Gilbert, it’s James, it’s William.” He gives the names, he gives the names.

Allison: I love that Mary’s reply to this letter is “Yes, love this. If we could kill Elizabeth and I’ll be free that would be wonderful. Please be careful, I’m suspicious of spies.” It’s my favourite. [laughs] I just imagine, every time, Walsingham opening that letter and being like, “He-he-he! Yes, you should be more suspicious of spies, Mary. What are you doing?”

Ann: Yeah, 10 years ago Mary would never have done this, but she was so broken down and frantic. And also, it’s like, what else is she going to do? What is she going to do?

Allison: This is the first time anyone has shown her they’re on her side in 20 years.

Ann: Yeah. Her son betrayed her, Elizabeth is not helping her, Amias Paulet is just a fucking nightmare, Puritan. Okay, at the same time, her now adult son, King James VI of Scotland, signed a treaty with England that didn’t mention Mary. Her not being mentioned in this at all made her even more furious and even more ready to get in on this Tony Babs plot. I mean, obviously, Tony Babs and his friends are all arrested because… [soft chuckle]

Allison: Surprise! They were not good at this.

Ann: Although, I will say, one step better than T-Dog because Tony Babs had burned Mary’s letters, they weren’t under his doormat. So, that’s one thing he did right.

Allison: Okay. [laughs] It’s the little things.

Ann: But he was tortured until he revealed what the letters had said which is just kind of like… Cecil and Walsingham knew what they said because they had copies and had read them.

Allison: Why would you do this to him? He’s just a dummy!

Ann: He’s just a little Eddie Redmayne. So, Elizabeth ordered that the execution of the first seven of these conspirators, 14 of them were arrested so the first half of them, she said that this execution should be as awful and as public as possible to dissuade other people from doing treasons. So, these guys, it was gross. They were dragged– Trigger warning, I don’t know. [laughs nervously]

Allison: It was bad. You know how bad executions were. [laughs nervously]

Ann: This was especially bad. Even the most passionate Protestants were like, “Eugh, Elizabeth, this is… Maybe that’s a bit much.” So, the execution of the other half was done more privately and quickly. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Elizabeth’s older sister Mary is like, “Oh my god, Bloody Mary, she killed all these Protestants.” It’s like, Elizabeth killed way more Catholics.

Allison: Yes, she did.

Ann: “She’s the mother of the country,” or whatever.

Allison: Nnh. Yeah maybe. I mean, yeah, and also… the body count is fairly high.

Ann: It’s just interesting. It’s interesting that there are similarities between their two reigns and one of them is like, “She was Gloriana!” And the other is, “She’s awful.” It’s just interesting. 

Mary didn’t know any of this had happened. She used to be on top of everything but now, between everybody and her letters and not having servants and no one helping her, she didn’t know that this plan hadn’t happened. She sent a letter to Tony Babs being like, “Great, let’s do this treason,” and then just didn’t hear anything. She didn’t know that they were being executed. 

Allison: And then she’s like, “Okay, I guess we’re just waiting for Spain. Let me sit here and wait until the Spanish Armada shows up to save me. Great.”

Ann: So then, she’s taken by surprise when Amias Paulet was like, “Hey, do you want to go deer hunting?” And she’s like, “Oh my god, yes! I love hunting and riding horses, wearing pants.” And this is so heartbreaking too. She’s like, “I get to go outside! Yay! Maybe I’m going to run into some important fancy people.” So, she put on her best outfit and she’s just like, “Doo-doo, going hunting, wearing my outfit,” feeling like herself. A group of men approached and initially, she thought “These are maybe the noblemen, maybe they’re the guys who are here to rescue me.” But instead, they were emissaries from Cecil who arrested her two secretaries. Mary was commanded to follow them, and she fell to the ground refusing to move. Honestly, a classic move done by numerous toddlers, [Allison laughs] can be successful but they took her.

Allison: Was not this time. 

Ann: No. So, she had been staying at this point at a place called Chartley Manor, her chambers were looted by people who wanted her stuff, “her letters and ciphers were gathered up and taken for evidence. Amias Paulet fired most of her staff,” because he was like, “You’re not going to need these servants anymore.” And remember how much she cared for her servants? She was always paying them and treating them so well. This Puritan is just like, “Fuck off all you guys!”

Allison: He sucks so bad. Just eugh!

Ann: He’s coming late in the game, but he’s got a real shot at Most Villainous Villain, Amias Paulet.

Allison: Because he’s doing this for no reason. There’s no reason for him to be this way.

Ann: He has no… what’s it called? He has no dice in the game.

Allison: He’s got no standing.

Ann: He’s just some guy! He’s not like, “I want my grandson to be King.” He’s just some fucking Puritan who just likes being an asshole, basically. 

I wanted to have a little callback. Some of the staff who she had had up to this point included Yung Willy but also Bastian Pagez and his wife Christily Hogg, who you might recall. That was the wedding that she attended the dance when Darnley was killed. Those two had been with her this whole time! Bastian Pagez. This is the importance of if you have a memorable name, I’m going to mention you on my podcast more than once. [chuckles] There are probably some other servants who I have come across, but they’re all called James and I forgot them. 

So, okay. Mary is taken to Fotheringhay Castle, and she’s told she’s going to be put on trial because remember even though she’s a queen, now there’s a thing where it’s like, these 17 specific-to-her laws are like, “If Mary…” 

Allison: Right. The Mary-Queen-of-Scots-specifically-can-be-put-on-trial law was passed seven years ago.

Ann: Yup, yup. Exactly. So, she’s going to be put on trial at Fotheringhay Castle. On October 15, 158,6 the trial began. “She entered the room to see there were 37 men there who were peers,” they were like her jury, I guess. “Mary was wearing her trademark black velvet, a gown with a train with a long sheer veil billowing behind her.” She’s being like, “I’m Mary, and my look is black and white, a veil. Let’s go.” 

Allison: It’s so legendary, the way she dresses for this. It’s just like, “Bitch, look at me. I’m here. Let’s go.”

Ann: And this is why William Cecil was always like, “She can never appear in court. She’ll make too much of a sensation.” 

Allison: “You know how this will go. If it uses an outfit, she cannot show up.”

Ann: This is like Rihanna at the Met Gala; we cannot allow this fashion power. Anyway, so she came in. There’s a big throne chair and she’s like, “I guess that’s for me because I’m the Queen.” And they’re like, “Au contraire. That chair represents Elizabeth, who is not here. You have to go sit in a normal chair.” She was not allowed to know the charges, the evidence, or to have a lawyer. So, this is even shittier than the original inquiry in terms of like, a fake trial at which she has no chance. But she said:

I am alone without council or anyone to speak on my behalf. My papers and notes have been taken from me, so I am destitute of all aid, taken at a disadvantage. My crimes consist in my birth, the injuries that had been inflicted on me, and my religion.

Which, fair/true.

Allison: And the treason you were going to do… but, whatever. [laughs]

Ann: And the treason but, you know, those other things led to this. So, knowing that these guys were going to yell at her John Knox-style and be like, “You’re a whooore,” et cetera she had prepared a whole counter-offense. You know what? She came in here prepared. She knew it was a fake trial, but she was still, like, prepared because she’s good at this shit! 

So, part of what she did is like– The only example I can think of is a terrible example. She was wearing her outfit, but she wasn’t like, “I’m 6 feet tall and gorgeous,” she entered, like, stooped, leaning on the arms of servants, looking feeble and weak; the veil accentuated her delicacy and her innocence. “She said, ‘I cannot walk without assistance nor use my arms and I spend most of my time confined to bed.’ She wept and cried presenting herself as a victim rather than as an assassin.” And the comparison I’m going to say is that time…

Allison: When Gandalf shows up in Rohan in the second Lord of the Rings movie and he’s leaning on somebody’s arm and he’s like, wrapped in and old cloak and is like, “I am a weak old man.” And then when he needs to be powerful, he like, beam of light… That’s what this is. Strategically being like…

Ann: She’s like, “I’m a poor frail woman. Mehhh.” Anyway, but then William Cecil was like, “Yeah, but when you were the Teen Queen of France did you not have your coat of arms include England? And people said you were queen of England?” And she’s like, “That was a million years ago, 10 Vulgar History episodes ago. Really? Really? That?”

Allison: “That’s the most recent treason you have?”

Ann: But that’s really what put her on the map for him when that happened. When the coat of arms… Cecil was, like, going to destroy her, from that, really. Anyway, she’s like, “Yes, I did do that but that was my de Guise uncles’ decision, and I was just a child.” And then she’s like, “Walsingham you were the one who invented coded letters and plots against Elizabeth. This is all fake. I wasn’t involved in the Tony Babs plot.” “Can I be responsible for the criminal projects of a few desperate men which they plan without my knowledge or participation?” 

Allison: And the answer is yes because they passed a law to that effect, five years ago that yes she can be held liable without her participation.

Ann: Yeah. So, there was a debate. Here’s a quote I want to say. Some of the men who were there, the jury said, this is like a tag yourself, situation. They called her, “The daughter of sedition, the mother of rebellion, the nurse of impiety, the handmaid of iniquity, the sister of unshamefulness.”

Allison: I am the sister of unshamefulness.

Ann: I think I’m the nurse of impiety. Anyway, they all agreed she was guilty of treason and should be sentenced to death. And Elizabeth was like, “Or should she?” So, at the parliament where this verdict was supposed to be ratified Elizabeth was like, “Mmm… Maybe.” She gave two speeches. Elizabeth was very good at giving speeches that said nothing but sounded good. [ laughs]

Allison: She’s a real, like, White House Press Secretary of a person. You can talk for 45 minutes, and she didn’t say a damn thing.

Ann: Yes. So, her speeches were kind of like, “Yes, maybe we should execute her. Or maybe we should not execute her… are two options… that exist… right now!” [Allison laughs] So, it’s the same thing. if she had Mary executed then England might be attacked by France, Spain, Scotland, and the Vatican all at once. 

Allison: The Pope! [laughs] Yeah. 

Ann: And also putting a monarch to death who was her cousin could taint her reputation as the fair and virtuous Virgin Queen. And then also, if you kill one queen then it’s like, ”Hey, guess who can be killed? Queens!” [Allison laughs] And that puts her at risk. So, that’s on the one side. On the other side, Mary is a threat to her and was planning to assassinate her. 

So, this trial was in October. Then it turns to winter and Elizabeth is still like, “Mmm, what to do?” Mary, meanwhile, is assuming she’s going to be executed. She writes what she thinks will be her final letters, “Gifting what few items she had left to the people she still liked. She sent a diamond to the Spanish ambassador with a request it be used to help pay her staff after she was dead,” because she was a good boss. Although, how did she still have a diamond? Was it with her when she went out horse riding that day?

Allison: Must have been. She was dressed well.

Ann: True. Maybe it was in her earrings or something.

Allison: Although she did spend like a year at Fotheringhay waiting for the trial, and then waiting for Elizabeth to make up her mind. So, she might have been like, “Can you send my stuff from the other house?” 

Ann: True.

Allison: She liked to have her own stuff with her.

Ann: Yeah, I know but the other people had gone through her stuff. 

Allison: I guess what treason is she going to commit with one diamond?

Ann: So, on December 4th, the death sentence was announced. Elizabeth could still revoke it but now the public knew. So, this was kind of like Elizabeth writing a test to be like, “How will people react if they know that she’s going to be executed?” And it played pretty well. Church bells were rung, bonfires were lit, and people in England were like, “Huzzah!” Basically. People in Scotland and France and the Catholic countries were like, “Nnh, I don’t know about this,” but no one was threatening war so that was, like, okay. 

Mary’s biggest concern now, knowing she was going to die was that Elizabeth was going to execute her privately because Mary wanted to have a big scene because she’s going to be like, “You don’t want me to be a symbol for Catholic martyrs? Fuck you, I’m going to be the biggest symbol!”

Allison: “Fuck you, I’ll be the best martyr!” Yup. She loves a show and if this is going to be her last show, Mary is going to go out with some drama. 

Ann: Exactly. So, she was just worried that Elizabeth was going to kill her in private. So, she wrote to Elizabeth being like, “Please let my execution be in public, and also, please, I would like to be buried in France, not in Scotland.” This letter was also intercepted and kept in Cecil’s files, not delivered to Elizabeth. So, Elizabeth was like, “Okay, well if Mary expresses regret, maybe I can call this off.” But Mary did not express. She was in her martyr era. She’s just like, “I’m going to be executed and it’s going to be the biggest ‘Fuck you’ ever.” She’s not going to be like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m Protestant now.”

Allison: Absolutely not. It’s too late for that. She spent 18 years sitting alone getting mad. She’s not going to be like, “Oh no actually, now it’s fine.” She was ready to have Elizabeth murdered by the King of Spain. She’s not going back now. 

Ann: No. So, Elizabeth went to Amias Paulet and was like, “Can you quietly poison her food so she can just die of “natural causes?” And Amias Paulet, to his credit, was like, “I’m a Puritan! No! Puritans don’t poison people!” [laughs] I mean, his ethics are interesting.

Allison: “I ruined her life in every other way, but I won’t do that.” 

Ann: “Even I draw the line somewhere.” The thought of her impending martyr-based death seemed to energize her. You’re right, she had this show and she’s just going to be like, “You’re going to execute me? I’m going to fuck your life. Here’s what’s happening.” Her physician reported, he “had not seen her so joyous nor so constantly at ease for the last seven years.”

Allison: And she’s also, I do think her Catholic faith is really genuine, and she’s been trapped in a house without knowing what was going to happen to her for so long and now she’s like, “I’m going to die, I’ve done all of the things right. I’m going to go to heaven, I’m going to be free and see my mom. It’ll be great, I just have to get there.” There’s a real martyr energy to her that I think she is taking some emotional solace in. Not just that it’s a fuck you, because it is but it’s also like, “This is my out. This is how I get out of this.” 

Ann: There’s also something for her specific kind of Catholicness that there’s a glory. Being a martyr is a goal for some people, in a way. To die for your faith is the best way to die. 

Allison: She would have preferred not to die, I think, and have been Queen of Scotland. But this is not a bad… I mean, it’s a bad outcome, but it’s a good-bad outcome. She’s going out on her terms and she’s going out with drama so that feels, I’m sure, like a comfort.

Ann: Definitely. There’s definitely something about the Catholic, everything you just said. Finding comfort in the fact that– I think it’s something like, one of the books I read but I was like, “I don’t have the brain capacity to understand what martyrdom means to Catholic people,” but I think it’s like a shortcut to heaven or something. The most honourable thing you can do is to die for your faith.

Allison: Yeah, I mean it’s saints and martyrs together. You’ve conducted some sort of miracle in your life, or you were willing to give up everything for God and that’s like, I don’t know if this was still in the purgatory days for Catholics or not. I believe it probably was so if you died and you had sins you weren’t repented for yet, you would spend time in purgatory and people would have to pray for you so you could get to heaven. It would be painful and take a long time and you would still suffer. But martyrdom was like, “Straight to the front of the line, right to heaven, you did an incredible job. Look at you, dying for God.” So yeah, it’s a big move.

Ann: It’s a positive thing for her in that way. So, the fact that she was energized is like, oh, interesting. But to her and her faith, this was, not the best-case scenario, that would be being alive, but second-best.

Allison: And it’s just such an interesting thing to think about her personality when you compare what happened to like, Jane Grey. This is a very similar kind of martyrdom. 

Ann: It’s very similar.

Allison: But you’re just like, “Oh the vibes here.” Mary’s like, “Fuck this, I’m going out.” And maybe it’s age, maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s personality, I don’t know, but it feels so different.

Ann: Mm-hm. So, time is passing. Elizabeth has still not signed the death warrant. She’s just dragging this out because she really wants to make sure before she commits to this that it’s the right thing and it’s not going to make her look bad. 

Allison: And no one’s going to invade, preferably. 

Ann: Yeah. So, February 1st. This is such a like, play-acted thing. So, Cecil took a sick day. Usually, he’s the one who brings her the paperwork to sign but he’s like, I’m sick today. So he sent this other lackey to bring the paperwork to Elizabeth and he tucked the death warrant in among the pile of other papers. So, Elizabeth was like, “I’m just signing some papers,” so she could plausibly later be like, “Oh no! The death warrant was there? What an accident, I didn’t mean to do that.” So, she signed it in this kind of play-acting way.

Allison: And that’s so often how it’s told, the story. She’s like “Oh, she didn’t know. It was a mistake” It’s like, that’s her PR! She knew, she knew what she was doing. She wanted it to seem like she didn’t commit even though she had to do it.

Ann: Because that’s her whole thing I’ve come to learn, is just not taking a side. But also, she signed the paperwork and because she’d been not deciding for so long everybody was like, “Okay, we’re planning this execution right now before Elizabeth can change her mind.”

Allison: “Let’s go.”

Ann: So, that was February 1st. February 7th, Mary was told she’d be executed the next day. Cecil said, “She seemed not to be in any terror but rather with a smiling cheer and pleasing countenance, digested and accepted, saying that her death would be welcome to her.” So, that night she handed out the last of her wardrobe to her few remaining staff. Do you remember she made the bedding set for her son that was like the family crests and pictures of her as a lion in a cage and stuff? So, she instructed somebody to send that to her son because they held her truth, she wanted him to know her story… If he knew the allegories she was using, which, I don’t know. “In the early hours of February 8th, Mary wrote her last letter to the King of France,” who was Henri. “Her heart was still in the land where she had been happiest,” which was France, the least complicated era of her entire life.

Allison: By a considerable margin, France was the best.

Ann: Yes. So, she stayed up all night. At 6 AM she retired for private prayer and then two hours later at 8 AM they came for her. “She wanted her Catholic chaplain to be with her but that was not allowed. She asked to have at least some of her women with her and two were permitted: Janet Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle,” Elizabeth Curle was the wife of her secretary, Gilbert Curle, “along with four men from her household.” Okay, so Allison, explain to me, the execution happened indoors?

Allison: Yes. Inside the castle in one of, like, a hall. They set up the execution block and everything inside and anyone who was around could go and watch it. This is not the way things are usually done and I do think it’s, like, when Mary had asked specifically, “Can this not be indoors? Can this not be private? I would like to make a scene.” I think Cecil was probably like, “Guess who we should not allow to make a scene? Let’s do this indoors, privately.”

Ann: It just seems like, messy on the floor.

Allison: I have two things to say to that. One, every old-timey floor was covered in rushes and plants, instead of carpet because the floors were always gross so they could have just swept that out and put new stuff in. Also, second point, I don’t think Cecil cared about the floor. [Ann laughs] I think he was like, “I’ve been waiting for this for 35 years. Fuck the floors.”

Ann: Yeah. I was just startled when I realized it happened indoors.

Allison: It was weird. It’s hard to picture it inside. 

Ann: Yeah. And I might be conflating the Mary, Queen of Scots films I’ve seen with films of Ann Boleyn’s execution or Jane Grey but I’m just picturing this outdoor courtyard thing.

Allison: Like at the Tower of London. 

Ann: Yeah.

Allison: Yeah, no. She’s still in northern England.

Ann: So, Mary aged 44. She looked much older due to the life she had lived. “She could barely walk and had to lean on others to make her way to the scaffold.” People who were there to witness included Mr. Bess as well as Amias Paulet. 

Mary wore a gown of black satin with a long train and a transparent white veil edged in delicate lace. Her gown was adorned with buttons representing acorns, symbol of the spirit. Her long, black sleeves were underlaid with purple velvet, a claim of royalty. Around her neck she wore a wax disc etched with the image of the lamb of Christ and around her waist she had wound two rosaries. She clutched a prayer book in one hand, in the other, a small crucifix.

So, it was just like…

Allison: It’s the most Catholic fucking outfit in the world. [laughs] Amazing.

Ann: Yeah, yeah. 

Allison: She had one last outfit, and she was like, “How can I make this the most dramatic outfit anyone has ever worn?”

Ann: Well… Just wait. The Protestant Dean of the Peterborough Cathedral was there, and he began to deliver a lengthy speech, but Mary started talking over him, in Latin at the same time. [laughs]

Allison: I love her so much. She’s like, “Fuck you I’m a Catholic, I will be Catholic loudly in front of you.”

Ann: So, he stopped talking because she was talking. And then when he stopped talking, she switched from Latin to English so everyone there would understand what she was saying. “She prayed for her son and for Elizabeth, she asked God to forgive England and excuse her enemies. At the end, she held up the crucifix, kissed it, made the sign of the cross.” So, just like, love it. The combination of righteous martyrdom and drama is so Mary to me. And then, “The two women she had with her came up to unpin her outer garments for her final outfit reveal.” So, she had an outfit inside of another outfit.

Allison: She did a quick change, guys! Like she’s on stage on Broadway, she died with a quick change!

Ann: Yeah, the outfit reveal it’s like a RuPaul’s Drag Race, you know, like an outfit in an outfit? So, inside of the black outfit, “She’s wearing a blood red petticoat and bodice, the colour of martyrdom, symbolic of human sacrifice. Allegedly, Elizabeth’s mother, Ann Boleyn had also worn red to her execution.” So, a little bit of like, “Hey Elizabeth, what does this make you think of?” And then the women who were with her put red sleeves on to match the dress, so she went from the black outfit to this red ensemble. “One of the executioners went to remove…” remember she’s wearing the wax disc around her neck because [laughs] I’m so sorry. [ laughs]

Allison: You just realized why? [laughs]

Ann: No, no, no. A tip for the hangman, the name of your book. Because usually, hangmen, you give the people… The person who is executing you, you would give them a gift to be, kind of like, “I forgive you,” or whatever.

Allison: You forgive them and then you pay them because it’s their job. They get some of your clothes or a couple of coins and they’re like, “Thanks. Appreciate it. Now I’m going to kill you.”

Ann: I didn’t write this down; I can’t believe I didn’t write this down, but do you know what the executioner’s name was?

Allison: No, no I don’t.

Ann: Bull! [both laugh] Just one word. His name is just Bull.

Allison: [laughs] First name-last name, like Cher?

Ann: Yeah. So, Bull tried to take this from around her neck because it would have been worth something or whatever.

Allison: And also, in the way.

Ann: And in the way. And she’s like no and gave it to one of her women. And then Janet Kennedy wrapped a white cloth around her eyes, and it wasn’t a regular white cloth, it was the kind used at mass to protect the wine. So, they’d taken it from a Catholic church.

Allison: Because she’s so extra! Augh!

Ann: Yeah, she embraced and kissed her women, made the sign of the cross again and then knelt down and recited “Into your hands oh Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Allison: The last words of Jesus fucking Christ. [laughs] Our dramatic queen was like, “You know who else reminds me of this situation? The Lord Jesus Christ!”

Ann: It was… You know, if you’re going to be executed as a Catholic martyr, she did it.

Allison: She hit all of the beats.

Ann: That’s what you do. So, then there was a thing where the executioner held up her head to be like, “Look she’s really dead,” but he was only holding the wig. [chuckles softly]

Allison: Mary Seaton, meanwhile, in France is like, “He-he.” 

Ann: There’s a legend that “Her lips continued to move in prayer for 15 minutes afterwards.” Mr. Bess cried and then apparently one of her little dogs, a little terrier dog had “Crept under her long skirt and stayed by her side and been with her as she died. Afterwards, the dog allegedly lay in the blood between her head and her shoulders and refused to leave.” Eventually, the dog was taken to be cleaned because everything, her outfit, everything that had been there had to be removed… Well, okay. The dog was cleaned. All of her outfits had to be burned because basically, there’s that weird Catholic thing where people take relics and make them be holy items and they’re like, “Nothing from this execution can remain, even the blood on the dog needs to be cleaned off.”

Allison: Otherwise, it would be like, you have it in the altar of some treasonous Catholic church somewhere. Like, “They have the fingernails of Mary Stewart, and they can perform miracles,” or something.

Ann: Exactly. But you have feelings about the dog, I think.

Allison: It’s adorable and I just, it also makes me incredibly sad. It’s like that tiny last note almost of comedy at the end, which I find extremely upsetting to me. She staged everything; she choreographed every single beat of her execution. And then just imagining at the very end of it, a little dog poking its nose out from under her skirt is just, like, that makes me want to cry.

Ann: Yeah. And I think this is why, in so many… She became a real heroine in the 19th-century art world. There are so many paintings and they’re mostly about Rizzio and Darnley but there’s almost always a little dog in every one of those paintings and I think it’s because this part of the story really connects with people. 

Allison: And I don’t know logistically if it’s true because how did that dog hide under her skirt as she walked through an entire room? That’s an extremely well-trained dog. I don’t know. But it’s quite an image.

Ann: You know what? I wouldn’t put it past her to train the dog to do that. She stage-managed this whole thing. We’re going to talk next time about her legacy and stuff but part of where she became a popular subject for artists in the 19th century was because Victoria was the Queen and they’re like, “Okay, we have this queen. The last time we had a queen it was Elizabeth, but she didn’t marry and didn’t have children. But Mary did. We can’t blame Elizabeth for what happened to Mary,” so they really paint Mary as this “Oh, woe is me; fortune and fate have fucked me over.” It was a weird rebrand of both Mary and Elizabeth. 

So, I’m just going to wrap up the execution era. So, “Her severed head was shown to crowds outside through a window,” to be like, “Look, she’s dead.” 

Mary’s women wanted to strip her body and lay out her corpse, but they weren’t allowed, in fact, her servants were all locked in their rooms. Her body was embalmed and wrapped in wax cloth and a local plumber came to encase it in lead.


Allison: Wild. A wild detail I did not know. [laughs

Ann: Yeah. this was not standard.

Allison: Is that just– Wait, plumber. Does that just mean someone who works with lead? Like Pb, the elemental symbol for lead because there was no indoor plumbing, [Ann laughs] so it wasn’t a plumber. I think it was just a lead worker.

Ann: [laughs] That makes more sense. 

Allison: You watched Ann and I look at each other like, “What toilet was he fixing in the castle?” [laughs

Ann: [laughs] Yes, a local lead worker came to encase her body. But this is like, the body was embalmed and again, they didn’t want her like, finger bone to become a relic or whatever. They had to be like, “No one can ever touch this body.” So, when Elizabeth was told Mary was dead, she was like, “Oh Herman, my pills!” Pretending to be upset like, “[dramatic tone] Whaaat? That paperwork I signed? Meee?” Anyway, the guy, the substitute Cecil who had given her the papers was put in the Tower of London for 18 months to be like, “How dare you give this…”

Allison: Oh my god, I’d be so mad. [laughs] Son of a bitch.

Ann: Yeah, honestly. Elizabeth, she’s that bitch too. She played her part as well. Anyway, up in Scotland her son James was like, “Wait, what just happened?” So, he severed his deal with England, he’s like, “I’m not going to be your ally anymore. Fuck you England.”

Allison: Which would have made Mary really happy if she could have known that.

Ann: Definitely, for once. In France, back when she came over, there were two poets both called Pierre. One was a dirtbag stalker. The other Pierre who had been her French tutor, the one who got her really interested in French poetry, wrote, “Ah, Kingdom of Scotland, I think your days are now shorter than they were and your nights longer since you have lost that princess who was your light,” which is lovely. Basically, France was like, “Oh, we loved her.” 

Allison: “We all fucked up.”

Ann: Yeah. So, in France, a memorial was held at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The archbishop said:

Besides that marvelous beauty which attracted the eyes of all the world, she had a disposition so excellent an understanding so clear, and a judgement so sound as could rarely be parallel by a person of her age and sex. She possessed great courage, but it was tempered by feminine gentleness and sweetness. 

Mary was given a state funeral. This was all really tricky for Elizabeth. She’s like, “She’s a queen who is dead. But also, treason. But also, we can’t support her. But also, a queen.” So, she was given a state funeral at Peterborough Cathedral, the same place where Catherine of Aragon had been interred. Kind of like, “This is where we put the queens we don’t really want to…”

Allison: “This is the cathedral for problem queens that we fucked up with.”

Ann: Yeah. Anyway, it was a Protestant service and they paid local peasant women to go there and cry as the official mourners because her staff were still locked in their rooms, I think. 

We’re ending here for today because that was extraordinarily long. We’re going to do all the scoring, talking about her legacy and stuff, not next week. Next week is Clare Hunter, embroidery talk.

Allison: Embroidery time! I’m excited for that one.

Ann: And then the one after that, we’re going to talk about the score and stuff. 

Allison, can you please explain to people in a non-spoilery way, how your book involves some of this story?

Allison: Yeah. My book is about Walsingham’s spy network during this time, essentially. So, it starts sort of in the early stages of the Babington Plot and one of the major plot threads through that book, through about the midpoint of the book, is how my protagonist is engaged in the Babington Plot and the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, I don’t think that’s a spoiler. I’m following at least that much history. There’s some creative license going on throughout, but I am telling the story that we did in today’s episode in my book, A Tip for the Hangman, available wherever books are sold.

Ann: And you sort of imagine Kit Marlowe instead of the Ryan Phillippe-type role.

Allison: Yes. Because you all heard me get extremely excited about Ryan Phillippe because I think that role is so interesting so I was like, “Okay, what would it be if that person was also a dumbass gay disaster?” That’s what I did.

Ann: Exactly. And then for people who want to keep up with you and what you’re up to, you have a website.

Allison: I do. That website also links to my Substack which is “Dirtbags Through the Ages” which features many of the assholes we’ve discussed in this Mary, Queen of Scots series as well as numerous others and why they suck. 

Ann: And if people want to go back and listen, you’ve been on numerous episodes of this podcast. But the very first appearance you did was when A Tip for the Hangman first came out and you were talking about Christopher Marlowe. So, if people want to go back and hear you explain more about the book and about Christopher Marlow and what bits of history you took to extrapolate to be like, what if he was Ryan Phillippe? We talk about that there. If you scroll back in your Vulgar History on your podcatcher, you can see that. 

I usually have notes in front of me but this document, I didn’t have notes. So, I’m going to try to remember off the top of my head. So, Instagram, I’m on Instagram @VulgarHistoryPod, I’m on TikTok @VulgarHistory. If you want transcriptions, which are being done by Aveline Malek of The Wordary, you can get transcripts of the most recent episodes at, just click on the episode you want and like, Aveline is slowly going through. Some of these episodes, like today’s, are incredibly long so she does what she can. Anyway, we’re slowly adding transcripts to episodes so if the one you want to read doesn’t have a transcript, just check back because it’ll be there shortly. 

Patreon, I’m at, that’s where you can get early, ad-free access to this podcast. Vulgarpiece Theatre episodes featuring Allison and also our friend Lana talking about various costume dramas from history. I do think, this isn’t finalized, it’s just a proposal, but I think the three of us should watch the Saoirse Ronan, Mary Queen of Scots movie. I think that would be very interesting.

Allison: I think we have to at this point. There has to be at least one Mary, Queen of Scots film and that will be the easiest one to find.

Ann: And I think it will be interesting for me because I watched that when it came out but now that I know who so many of the men are I’ll be like, “[gasps] That’s that guy! Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart!” Instead of just like, “I don’t know who all these men are, so I’ll just focus on Mary.” I’ll be like, “That guy! That guy! Scottish Machiavelli!”

Allison: A Douglas! It’s a Douglas! 

Ann: Oh my god, a Douglas. I think that will be a thing I will yell in that movie. Anyway, so that’s coming up. Is that everything? 

Oh! Merch! Yes. Most importantly, the new merch I have. The ‘A Catte Named Hepburn,’ merch which is inspired by Mary’s own cat embroidery. Instead of a ginger cat representing Elizabeth and a shapeless blob of a mouse representing Mary’s psychological devastation, it’s a tortoiseshell cat who looks happy, who represents my cat Hepburn, who has been walking in and out of this recording this whole time, and a cute little mouse who is happy and they’re friends. So, it’s a very different vibe from Mary’s embroidery. Anyway, you can get that on a T-shirt, sticker, pin, a mug, what I got for myself, a pillow, just to have a real Mary, Queen of Scots treason cushion vibe. You can get that all at, works best for American people and then, if you’re in another country, the shipping is better at that website. 

Allison, you’ve dedicated so many hours of your life to talking about this with me and I could not appreciate it more. 

Allison: I do feel like the listeners should know that Ann and I have recorded two episodes at a time each time we’ve done this and this morning, we started hours and hours ago and I just looked up and realized what time it is now. 

Ann: This was… this was…

Allison: Time flies when we’re talking about Mary, Queen of Scots. But this has been a full Saturday experience. 

Ann: It has been. Thank you so much for spending several Saturdays with me. I look forward to having you back again for when we get to the scoring, which is going to be a wild discussion.

Allison: I cannot wait.

Ann: You know what tits out brigade? Let me know what scoring you think should be the scoring because we can maybe incorporate that into our thoughts as well. Anyway, thank you so much, Allison. Everybody, I don’t know, I was going to be like, “If you’re going to be executed, do it with style!” But that’s not a funny joke. That’s a terrible thing to say.

Allison: Don’t get executed.

Ann: Don’t get executed!

Allison: But honestly, approach every day like you’re going to do a quick costume change into a dramatic gown.

Ann: Always have an outfit inside your outfit because you never know.

Allison: You never know.

Ann: And check to see if there’s a little dog in your skirt, a little cute surprise for you. [laughs] I don’t know. I am getting delusional from having talked about this for so long. Thank you, Allison. Everybody, pants on, tits out.


Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and her Greatest Rival by Kate Williams

Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter

Imprisoning Mary, Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen by Mickey Mayhew by Cyril Hamshere

George Lasry, Norbert Biermann & Satoshi Tomokiyo (2023) Deciphering Mary Stuart’s lost letters from 1578-1584, Cryptologia

Learn more about Allison Epstein and their books at and follow them on IG and Twitter @ rapscallison

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